Once Joe Kurtz needed revenge -- and revenge cost him eleven years in Attica prison. Now Kurtz needs a job, and the price is going to be higher. Out of prison, out of touch, Kurtz signs on with the Byron Farino, Don of a Mob family whose son Kurtz had been protecting on the inside. Farino enlists Kurtz's help to track down the Family's missing accountant -- a man with too much knowledge of Family business to have on the loose.
But someone doesn't want the accountant found -- and with enemies inside the Family vying for his throne, and turf warfare just around the corner, Farino needs an outsider like Kurtz to flush out who's really behind this latest affront. As the story twists and turns and the body count rises, Kurtz no longer knows who he can trust. Everyone seems to be after something, from the mob boss's sultry yet dangerous daughter, to a hit man named The Dane, an albino killer who is good with a knife, and a dwarf who is armed to the teeth and hell-bent on revenge. Kurtz has always been an ace investigator. Now he's about to discover that to get at the truth, sometimes you have to go after it -- hard.
In books such as Darwin's Blade, Carrion Comfort and Hyperion, Simmons has shown a chameleon talent for mastering the colors and shadings of the horror, suspense and science-fiction genres. He adds one more tone to his palette with this terse hardboiled crime thriller, set in an upstate New York town bathed in Conradian darkness. When ex-PI Joe Kurtz emerges from Attica after an 11-year-stretch, he is still being sought by the brother of a man he iced for murdering his partner, as well as by disciples of a Black Muslim group whose leader he killed in stir. Not the most obedient parolee, Joe clandestinely resumes detective work, tracing a vanished mob accountant for aging don Byron Farino much to the aggravation of the don's family and associates, who are secretly double-crossing one another and jockeying for power. Simmons sets up the paths of crossfire necessary for the story's few surprising twists, then simply lets the bodies start falling once the bullets start flying. His narrative is all sinew and bloody gristle, stripped of the deep reflection and lively character-development that usually give his books a plusher texture. His plot depends on coincidence, exploitation of the raging Niagara Falls backdrop and Joe's superhuman capacity for taking and dishing out physical abuse, but his rapid pacing keeps the reader from dwelling too much on its improbability. This tale is unlikely to advance modern crime-fiction's literary ambitions, but it will be hard to beat for a pulp-fiction beach-read.