Author – Dave Zeltserman
Published – 2010 (paperback)
Genre – Crime
Not an author I had heard of before, but I received a free copy from @WHSmithcouk via Twitter.
This is a hardboiled noir by a rising star in the US: the third in Zeltserman’s “Badass Gets Out of Jail” series. Leonard March walks free from jail after fourteen years’ hard time, served after turning state’s witness against his Mafia boss Salvatore Lombard. It’s only after Leonard is sentenced that the public learned that he was a Mob hitman with twenty-eight deaths to answer for.
Leonard is released to public outrage and media furore. He spends his time working as a janitor while looking over his shoulder, fearful of a vigilante attack or a revenge hit from his former colleagues. At 62 and with plenty of time on his hands, he is at an age when most men grow reflective and attempt to understand their mark on the world. But for Leonard, while the threats to his safety are not imagined, his self-reflection may pose the greatest threat of all.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, and I guess it’s no help that now I’ve read it I’m really not sure how to describe it. Although billed as ‘crime fiction’ it has an unconventional approach and is written more as a memoir. The book is narrated by Leonard, an ex-con who accepted a shorter prison sentence for giving up the mobster who employed him as a hit-man. When he leaves prison he is certain that people (the mob, victim’s relatives, reporters) will be after him. We follow Leonard as he moves into a grubby, run-down apartment and starts a cleaning job, all the time waiting for someone to try to take their revenge.
As he tells the story in the days after his release there are flashbacks to his life of crime, which give the background to how he came to be a killer and some of the ‘hits’ he made. The author supplies both graphic detail and a sense of humour, and makes a cold-blooded killer a (relatively) appealing character. I was searching for a description of the style and the blurb has it with ‘hard-boiled’. It’s set in a dirty, smelly Boston which the author brings to life. It made quite a change from the books I’ve read recently which have been pretty long (this was only 200 pages) and set in middle-class GB.
While the tension builds, as you know that one way or another Leonard’s situation will reach a climax, it’s as much a ‘coming of age’ story as a thriller or mystery. It also has the real sign of a good read – I’ve found myself thinking about the story days after I finished it.
Score – 4/5