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Book Review: The Last Witness by Joel Goldman

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Slick as a politician’s handshake. Crafted in the spirit of the best hardboiled thrillers of the golden era yet thoroughly modern and so up to date you could be watching it on the evening news. Dark and brilliant sexy and full of surprises. The Last Witness by Joel Goldman is classy and stylish noir at its very best.

When Jack Cullan, the spiritual heir to “Boss Tom” Pendergast’s Kansas City political machine winds up dead, Attorney Lou Mason takes it personally. His best friend, Wilson “Blues” Bluestone is arrested and charged with the murder. Blues says he is innocent, and Mason believes him because Blues has never told him a lie. But Blues threatened the dead man in front of witnesses, and his fingerprints and DNA are found at the scene. Blues’ ex-partner, KC Detective Harry Ryman is convinced he did it, but he has carried a grudge for Blues for years: Harry thinks Blues got away with murder once for killing a woman in a drug bust. Blues left the KCPD after that shooting, and Harry, who happens to be Mason’s aunt and surrogate mother’s romantic companion, has been out to nail him since.

Mason soon realizes that in order to prove Blues innocent, he’ll have to find the real killer as he suspects that everyone from the prosecutor to the judge to the cops doesn’t want to dig for justice because they just might uncover more dirt than what covers a grave. All of KC’s major players are on edge – from the Mayor, ex-quarterback and hometown hero Billy Sunshine to suspected mobster and casino owner Ed Fiora. They know that Cullan kept files on everyone who allowed him to pull the strings on the political, legal, and business community of KC.

Mason is quickly approached by the mayor’s chief of staff, Amy White, with an offer to find and turn over the files; other offers soon follow. Devastatingly sexy Beth Harrell, the gambling commissioner who was in Blue’s night club with Cullan the night before the murder, wants photos Cullan had of her that may just have convinced her to grant Fiora his gaming license. Fiora suspects he was in the files and doesn’t want the methods of how he got his gaming license granted, nor his questionable finances exposed. Additionally, if he had the files, he could control the political machine. White wants to protect her boss; Cullan’s secretary, Shirley Parker, wants to protect her dead boss. Leonard Campbell, the DA, says he wants to prosecute those exposed in the files, but Mason suspects he wants the political muscle the files would bring him.

Mason suspects the files will also expose cops on Cullan’s payroll, but which cops? His aunt’s lover Ryman; his partner Carl Zimmerman; or Toland,the officer who arrested Blues and seems to have more than an interest in justice? Then there’s Donovan Jenkins, the ex favorite wide receiver for Billy Sunshine and now KC beer distributor. Throw in an endless supply of receptionists named Margret running interference for their bosses, and everyone wants the files to stay lost or to possess them for their own purposes, which they just may be willing to kill for – if they haven’t already.

The cards are stacked against Mason. And so are all the players. The evidence against Blues seems to be overwhelming. The police and prosecutors have stopped looking for any other suspect, whether because of grudges against Blues or political pressure from those with things to hide. It becomes evident in Mason’s quest to prove Blues not guilty, that there are many who would kill again or go to other extremes to send Blues to the death chamber.

Mason’s only allies are Mickey Shanahan, the dead-beat PR man, card sharp, computer hacker and conman who rented offices from Blues but never paid rent. Then there is Rachel Firestone, the lipstick lesbian reporter who Mason is sexually attracted to. Rachel was on the quest for the files before Cullan was killed. The chase leads across the frozen streets of KC in the midst of an ice storm that rivals the players’ own cold cold hearts from political boss Tom Pendergast’s old offices to the bedrooms and boardrooms of Kansas City’s rich and powerful.

With prose that is as precise as the workings of a slot machine and dialog that is quick, biting, hardboiled and smart, Joel Goldman has crafted a masterpiece in this, the second Lou Mason book. The pace is unrelenting, the plot perfect as it twists through the frozen streets. The characters are realistic and excellently developed, and the story will pull you in like a gambling addiction. I warn you, don’t miss this book, newly rereleased in eBook format. But if you do get it you might as well preorder Cold Truth, the third book in the series.

 

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About The Dirty Lowdown

I was born in Pomona, California at a very young age. I had a pretty normal childhood…or I was a pretty normal child hood if mom is telling the story. I was a paperboy and washed cars. I was a soda fountain jock-jerk and a manic mechanic but my first real job was as a labor organizer in a maternity ward. Then, because of the misjudgment of a judge I spent nearly 10 years in the service of our country mostly on KP duty. Our country sure turns out a lot of dirty dishes. I am a past master at pots and pans. They eventually recognized my real talent and let me wander around some very unfriendly places carrying a big radio that didn’t work. Along the way I took up the bass guitar, jotting down stories, electronic engineering and earned a degree in advanced criminal activities. I spent most of my adult life, if you can call it that, working in the I.T. industry, which I was particularly suited for since we worked in rooms with no windows. On and off I taught in colleges, universities and reform schools as a student teacher… I like smog, traffic, kinky people, car trouble, noisy neighbors, and crowded seedy bars where I have been known to quote Raymond Chandler as pickup lines. I have always been a voracious reader, everything from the classics, to popular fiction, history to science but I have a special place in my heart for crime fiction, especially hard-boiled detective fiction and noir. I write a book and music review blog for all genres at The Dirty Lowdown. And another dedicated to Crime Fiction and all things Noir called Crimeways. It’s named after the magazine that appeared in the Kenneth Fearing classic, The Big Clock. There I write scholarly reviews of the classic hard boiled, noir and crime fiction books from the 20's through today. Mostly I drool over the salacious pictures on the covers. I also write for Tecnorati/BlogCritics where i am part of a sinister cabal of superior writers.