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Book Review: The Cold Spot by Tom Piccirilli

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Tom Piccirilli’s The Cold Spot starts with a cold-blooded killing and ends with a hot-blooded one playing out with powerful V-8 engines throbbing in the background. That’s a suitable finale because the hero, Chase, is out for revenge and was raised by his career criminal grandfather as a getaway driver.

For the first few years of his writing career, Piccirilli penned horror and supernatural books, and an occasional Western. Then he crept over into the suspense field with supernatural novels like The Midnight Road before taking a headfirst plunge with The Fever Kill. Both books performed well and allowed him to set up The Cold Spot. Though horror fans will be loath to see Piccirilli go, or even divide his attentions, suspense fans are welcoming him with open arms.

I grew up on tough-guy novels like Richard Stark’s Parker, Dan J. Marlowe’s Drake, and some of the other Gold Medal books anti-heroes but I hadn’t suspected Piccirilli had until I read this novel. The Cold Spot was an unexpected surprise, though one of my current noir writers (Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman, The Blonde, and Severance Package) heartily recommended the book.

The book starts out with Chase at sixteen years old. He’s already an accomplished getaway driver and mechanic. He routinely builds each car the gang uses at each job, lovingly restoring a 1960s or 1970s muscle car, then destroying it shortly thereafter. The message is really cool: Chase can only love for a short length of time; he can’t hang onto anything.

The only constant in Chase’s life is his grandfather, Jonah, and Chase is never sure that the old man won’t see him as a danger and kill him one day. Jonah is in no way a paternal figure, and I entered into a wary relationship with him myself. Jonah reminds me most of those old noir heroes I grew up with, older and colder. He’s what those guys would have turned out to be once they hit their sixties. And I have to admit that I was mesmerized every time Jonah was on the page because I was never sure what he would do.

After the killing at the start of the book, Chase separates from the gang. He realizes that his grandfather is a lot harder than he’ll ever be able to be. I followed Chase’s adventures trying to get in with another “string” at different times, until he meets the female police officer who’s going to become the love of his life. I was hooked from the moment Lila was on stage, getting the drop on Chase after a botched robbery, and cheered again when Chase upstages her and gets the drop on her.

The fact that they ended up together was no surprise, but the manner in which they did was a lot of fun and very touching. Piccirilli builds this relationship tenderly and then he punches you in the gut so skillfully that you’re hurting before you know it.

When Chase can no longer live with what’s been done, he goes looking for Jonah. Chase feels compelled to find the men responsible and kill them. I was right there with him.

However, finding Jonah is problematic too. The old man carries a lot of dangerous baggage with him: a young woman who seems just as deadly as the old man and actually wants to be free of him. Piccirilli’s hangs her attempts to seduce Chase so expertly that I just knew he was going to do it because he was hurting so much. But Chase has his own code of honor, which is one of the things I enjoy most about him.

There’s simply no way to put this book down in its final moments. Piccirilli and Chase just steamrolled over me as every twist and turn crashed down around me. There are no winners at the end of this novel – only survivors. Thankfully Chase is one of them because another novel is supposed to come out next year. I’m definitely going to pick it up.

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