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Book Review: The Coldest Mile by Tom Piccirilli

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I had a blast with Tom Piccirilli’s first Chase novel, The Cold Spot, and picked up The Coldest Mile with enthusiasm. The books read a lot like the old Gold Medal crime novels that I grew up on as a kid, filled with tough guys, danger, guns, lethal ladies, and fast cars. Reading Piccirilli’s prose is like taking a step back in time.

I really like what he’s doing with Chase, his protagonist, and his screwed-up relationship with his grandfather, Jonah. Chase is in his mid to late 20s, a widower, and wants to figure out what’s left in his life, and what life's left in his family. His father committed suicide and his mother was murdered while she was pregnant, possibly by the same grandfather who raised him. He’s a wheelman, talented behind the wheel of a getaway car, kind of like Jason Statham in the Transporter movies.

Jonah is old school, a habitual criminal who doesn’t let anything stand in his way. I like Jonah a lot too, but more because of the hardness he wraps himself in than in the sentimentality of the man. When it comes to survival, Jonah always places himself at the head of the line. But he’s crafty, mean as a snake, and just flat scary.

The Coldest Mile seemed a little uneven to me, though Piccirilli pulled everything together pretty neatly by the end of the book. It was almost like two separate stories had been jammed together. In the first half of the book, Chase is working for the Langan crime family as a chauffeur in hopes of eventually ripping them off. While there, he gets caught in the crossfire of a deadly succession between a brother and sister while their father dies.

The second half of the book focuses on Chase’s search for his missing grandfather and two year old Kylie, his aunt. Kylie was introduced in the first novel and has become the linchpin that will knit at least the first three novels together. I don’t know if any more are going to be written, but I’m really looking forward to the third because it promises to be a great showdown.

Piccirilli’s writing is terse and brutal at times. He understands the psyche of the habitual criminal and has obviously spent a good deal of time researching the various ways criminals go at their business. I would have liked to see more of the crime in action in this one, more of the various gangs going about their scores, but there was a lot of action.

The dialogue, between the characters and the monologue inside Chase’s head, are all well done. A lot of the twists and turns kept me on my toes, wondering what was going to happen next and how Chase was going to get out of it.

Those of you, like me, who have been waiting for the big payoff between Chase and Jonah are going to need to be patient for a little longer, it seems. But there’s enough action between the two in this one to really whet the appetite. Can’t wait till the third book comes out next year.

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