Last year at Bouchercon, Peter Farris was one of the most buzzed about authors, with word being good on his debut novel, Last Call For The Living. There was a lot of great talk, and he was touted as the next great thing in rural noir. After reading Last Call, with its one-two punch of pulp crime and southern masculine Harry Crews-style prose, you soon realize Peter walks the walk, as well.
The book starts with a violent bank robbery, igniting a destiny both bloody and cathartic for everyone touched by the event. Hobe Hicklin, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, fresh out of prison, kills a teller and takes another hostage, dragging him to his mountain hideout. The teller, Charlie Colquit, is a soft young man who has practically given up on life until he finds himself fighting for it. As Charlie deals with his situation and develops a relationship with Hicklin and his meth-addled girlfriend that puts a new spin on Stockholm syndrome, a steadfast sheriff and Georgia Bureau Of Investigation agent are on Hobe’s trail, as well as some Brotherhood members Hobe crossed. It’s a mean and greasy tale that builds up to one hell of a confrontation between lawman and outlaws, with Hobe and Charlie in the middle.
Farris demonstrates a great sense of craft. He knows how to balance the relationship of Charlie and Hobe with the closing-in of Hinklin’s adversaries. Everything has an unforced, forward momentum. He also knows how to deliver an action sequence any Hollywood director would envy, like one of his apparent idols Walter Hill. John Woo may give you a shoot-out in a church, but was it in a church of snake-handlers? Farris has creates a mood where death lingers and can strike anyone.
He also understands that what carries a book, especially one about criminals, is character. His people have a rough and course humanity about them that forces you to take them on their own terms. That said, you get to care for most everybody, including the worst of them. One of the most memorable passages in the book is when Hicklin tells Charlie how only convicts truly know love. Even so, even when Farris shows us the heart of a character, he never lets us forget how dark he is.
Last Call For The Living is a debut that demands attention. Farris fuses a hard-boiled plot and pace with characters from an outlaw country song. Peter Farris knows what a hard core crime fiction fan wants, and he delivers the tropes with a fresh take.
Peter Farris is one of the featured authors at this month’s Noir at the Bar happening Thursday, June 7, 7pm at Opal Divine’s (700 West 6th St.) We’ll have beer, live music, and crime fiction. What else do you need?