Tag Archives: Norman Green

‘The Last Gig,’ by Norman Green

Having now become a pretty confirmed fan of Norman Green’s novels, I figured I’d try out his series character, Alessandra “Al” Martillo. As you know, I’m no big fan of hard-boiled female detectives, but I took a flyer on The Last Gig, the first book in the series.

I’ll give author Green credit for facing honestly some of the inherent problems of the female action protagonist. “Al,” he informs us along the way, is a sort of genetic anomaly – a throwback to more ancient humanity. She’s stronger than most women and a lot of men, and she heals at an astonishing rate.

She’s also – of course – gorgeous. But she’s as emotionally maladjusted as she’s physically exceptional. Raised by an indifferent aunt after her mother’s suicide, and then taken in by a sympathetic gay uncle, she keeps to herself and pushes off every man who shows interest. She’s got a chip on her shoulder for the whole world – especially her distant father, whose only contribution to her upbringing was to teach her to fight.

She works for peanuts for a sleazy private eye, who keeps trying to get into her pants. She can handle him, and she needs the work.

Then her boss gets approached by “Mickey” Caughlan, an Irish-American gangster who has (he claims) gone straight. Somebody has been smuggling drug components in Caughlan’s trucks, and he wants to find out who.

As Al investigates, she grows curious about a part of Caughlan’s story that may or may not be related to the crime. Caughlan had a son who was murdered, and he seems oddly unconcerned about it. Supposedly it’s because the boy wanted to be a musician, a career choice Caughlan opposed. But Al thinks there’s more to it.

So she jumps into the case with both feet. She will deliver beat-downs and receive them, and be challenged to move outside her personal comfort zone. Very dangerous people will threaten her, but Al is the most dangerous character in the city.

I didn’t love this book as much as the previous Green books I read. It wasn’t a bad book, but I didn’t identify with Al as I did with other Green protagonists, and I didn’t find here the fine passages of writing I’ve so enjoyed in the other books. A small public service announcement for gay marriage was included in the plot, but there was nothing really unfair there.

I’d probably go on with the series, if the later books were cheaper, but for now I’ll hold off. Moderately recommended, with cautions for language, sexual situations, and mature themes.

‘Way Past Legal,’ by Norman Green

I could easily have gone my entire life without really noticing the night sky at all, let alone wondering if it had anything to tell me. We’re so smart now, we know at least something about everything, but still, nobody can tell you which of those pieces of information are important.

Mohammed “Manny” Williams, the main character of Way Past Legal, is not a Muslim, in spite of his name. He doesn’t know what he is. Abandoned in a garbage bag as an infant, he grew up in the foster care system and became a successful thief. He’s always been looking for that big score, but is not prepared when he and his partner Rosario knock a place over and find themselves with a cool two million on their hands. Then Rosey tries to cheat Manny out of his half, and Manny feels no compunction about stealing it all back from him.

One thing is certain – this kind of money will bring a lot of heat. So Manny has to get out of New York. But he makes one stop on his way out – he picks up his little boy Nicky, who’s been languishing in a group home like his dad before him. Nicky adores his father, and is just happy to be with him.

Manny knows everyone will expect him to run south, to someplace warm. So he heads north. He’s near the northern tip of Maine when their car breaks down. A kindly local farmer gives them a ride to a garage, and he and his wife put them up while they’re waiting for repairs.

This town is like no place Manny has ever known. He’s never met friendly, generous people like these before. He helps them and is helped by them, and grows fond of them. Nicky loves it there, and the weight of paternal responsibility begins to bear down on Manny – how can he give his son a secure future when he’s on the run? How can he help him to grow up when he’s immature himself?

And when outsiders start showing up in the area, hunting for the money, Manny will have to take big risks and make hard decisions, because it’s not just him now – and not just him and Nicky – but it’s him and a whole lot of people he’s started to care about.

Beautifully written, exciting, suspenseful, and wholly engaging, Way Past Legal is now one of my favorite crime novels . It’s as good as Shadow of a Thief, which I reviewed yesterday, and lacks the occult element. The main Christian character in Way Past Legal is a very sympathetic fellow. I need to caution you about a lot of obscene language, and there’s violence, of course, but no explicit sex. Highly recommended for adults.

‘Shadow of a Thief,’ by Norman Green

So like a man who has settled for order instead of law, eventually I gave up on peace and contented myself with what moments of quiet I could find.

If you told me about a mystery story containing a supernatural element which is essentially syncretistic, and in which the main character is possibly demon-possessed during the climax, I’d probably tell you “Not my style. I’ll pass.”

But I got Norman Green’s Shadow of a Thief through an Amazon Prime deal, and I’m hoarding my pennies these days, and the writing was extremely good. So I stayed with it. And you know what? I’m a fan now.

Saul Fowler used to be a burglar, both free-lance and under contract to one of those shadowy US government agencies that so heavily populate fiction. But he succumbed to drugs and alcohol. Then he got clean through Narcotics Anonymous and fled to the northern tip of Maine, where he replaced his old addictions with a new one, to fishing. For his future he has no plans.

Then he’s approached by a man from his past – Reverend McClendon, who was his stepfather, and possibly his natural father. McClendon was the closest thing to a father figure Saul ever had, and he taught him his trade – the confidence game. But he’s a TV preacher now and – he claims – he’s turned his life around. He genuinely believes, he says, in Christianity (though his theology appears pretty pathetic).

He had (he says) a daughter, who might have been Saul’s half-sister. She has been cruelly murdered, and McClendon thinks Saul has the skills to look more deeply into the mystery than the cops have. They blame it on gang warfare (the girl was Chinese-American).

Saul agrees, not entirely sure why. But he has nothing better to do, and maybe he owes McClendon something.

His investigation will take him back home to New York, into the worlds of gangs, prostitution, the NYPD, and urban voodoo.

Theologically, I could criticize this book quite a lot (though I noticed there was no Christian-bashing). But as a story, it worked magnificently. Norman Green is as good a writer as I’ve come across in years – I’m amazed I’d never heard of him before. His prose is elegant, his characters fascinating, his dialogue snappy, his plotting riveting. My interest never once flagged as I read.

I highly recommend Shadow of a Thief, if you can handle some heterodoxy in a fictional setting. Cautions for language and violence.