A short while back I was blown away by Lynn Kostoff’s recently re-released debut, A Choice of Nightmares, a book that straddled the line between literary character study and crime novel in truly exciting ways. As amazing an experience as that novel was, with his second novel, 2003’s The Long Fall, dude managed to do that shit even better. This shit mixes bloody grit and stark beauty in ways rarely seen since the best novels of David Goodis, and holy fucking shit does the Nerd have a hard on for this stuff.
We follow Jimmy Coates as he struggles to make it the straight world following a stint in an Arizona penitentiary. Even more so than most ex-cons, Jimmy has the deck stacked against him. He owes a major debt to a crime boss, a corrupt cop he ratted on is out for his blood, his rich brother Richard screwed him out of his inheritance, and he just lost his job. While at his lowest Jimmy comes up with a plan to pay back the crime boss and his brother at the same time: he’ll rob four of his brothers’ dry cleaners one after the other. While pulling off the job he is recognized by Richard’s wife Evelyn. Thing is, instead of ratting him out, Evelyn asks to come along on another job with him in hopes of shaking things up in her predictable life. But while a dangerous romance buds, the aforementioned corrupt cop is biding his time to exact the perfect revenge.
Like A Choice of Nightmares, The Long Fall is concerned with taking the old tropes of noir and making them sting with a rare and harsh sense of realism. Yes, on the one hand The Long Fall is a funny, sexy, exciting crime novel that will make you sweat, especially in the last act when shit goes real fucking bad for our characters. But like how Robert Staples in A Choice of Nightmares is not just a classic noir figure of tragedy but a means for Kostoff to give us an honest exploration of a man who yearns for things beyond the 2.5 kids and the house in the suburbs (take a breath, take a breath!), Kostoff manages to make Evelyn Coates not just a Bonnie Parker get-me-outta-this-town type but a piercing and sad take on a palpable mid-life crisis. The situations in a Kostoff novel may seem exotic or fantastic in the way of any crime novel (and unless you’re a criminal a crime novel, you know, fucking should feel exotic), but the characters and their motivations always hit painfully close to home.
This shit is the ultimate in have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too writing, dear readers. You’ve got laughs, sex, violence, suspense, with great characters and prose that can hold its with the best of modern so-called literary fiction today. With Kostoff’s Late Rain having just dropped this very summer, that means Kostoff has been putting out novels at a rate of a book per decade. It’s painful to think that I will be all caught up with his shit soon with the possibility of another decade having to go by before I get another taste. Hard as that is for the Nerd to think about, if it takes that much time for him to craft books like these, I’ll deal with it. Crime fiction needs its own Kubrick, after all.