Friday, August 21, 2015

Presto Variations by Lee Lamothe

Sometimes it’s okay to say ‘no’

     I bought Lee Lamothe’s Presto Variations (2013) in a charming independent bookstore I’ve gone into a few times over the years in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  It had a really neat cover of overlapping keyboards.  I read the back cover and realized it was a police procedural thriller that seemed to be about money laundering.  I did not focus on the reason for the laundering, which was drug money.  Okay, we all have a blind spot about something and mine is pretty much anything to do with drugs.  Yes, they’re out there and yes I’ve been very close to people who did them and that’s how I know how they can destroy people and I don’t want to see that in ‘entertainment.’

     Lamothe lives in Toronto, which was another selling point for me, but I couldn’t tell exactly where the story was taking place (Toronto, Detroit, Buffalo) as the set-up was on the border, but seemed to start on the U.S, rather than the Canadian, side.  Lamothe demonstrates a jazzy style that owes something to Elmore Leonard with less juice.  It’s certainly not the frenetically baroque voice of James Ellroy either.  Here’s a bit from a conversation between the main launderer and his psychotic second in command, who plans to muscle him out somehow:

      Markowitz hung his head, hangdog.  “I took the shot, that’s all a guy can do, right?  Take his shot.”  He made a guilty smile and started laughing.  “Okay, okay, I’m an asshole.”

      Jerry Kelly didn’t mind kicking a sick cat.  He piled it on.  “Plus, we just lost another eighty.  That guy Petey that said he had a pipeline to get the dough out?  Do a test run with eighty grand?  He just fucked right off.”   Jerry Kelly’s blank blue eyes studied Markowitz gnawing at his lip.  “ I’ll fix that.”

     I read on for another sixty pages where the two lead cops Ray Tate and Djuana Brown were trying to get back to their dream of retiring to Paris and various dangerous lowlifes were setting up their schemes.  One complete innocent trying to do something decent for the world got beaten up and it turned me off.  The prospect of another three hundred pages really didn’t do it for me.  So I skipped to the end and found out that a lot of the lowlifes were killed off and the major asshole was offed in a nasty manner and I thought, “Enh.”  

    It’s like ordering something in a restaurant and then just not liking it, but also not being able to send it back because it was what it was.  I just couldn’t take it this time.

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