tommy-gun-tango-cover.jpgIn the midst of the Depression, California beckons as a place to find financial security and a better life, so Marshall Lawe, who lost his job as a constable in Peony Springs, Massachusetts, packs up and heads west. As he put it, the town dried up and his job with it.

As he’s driving along a dark, deserted highway in the midwest a ways past Chicago, Lawe falls victim to white-line fever and sideswipes a hitchhiker. Luckily, the man is not hurt and Lawe ends up asking the man to accompany him on the rest of the trip.  Al Haine is an Irishman and a talkative counterpoint to Lawe, who prefers to keep his own counsel. “Al talked nonstop, and with an Irish brogue as dense as a thicket. I had to force my way through the underbrush to find his meaning, but I lost the trail half the time.”

Despite Al’s tendency toward loquaciousness, he never reveals why he is on the run, yet there are hints to a dark side beneath his air of joviality. He’s a drinking man and a gambler, and sometimes Lawe is not sure where Al gets some of his money. But he doesn’t ask.

Al shares the book’s stage with Lawe and two other major characters whose lives intertwine in sometimes surprising ways. Utilizing multiple points of view, one per chapter, each character reveals where they came from and what propelled them toward California, and as the story progresses the connections between the characters become stronger. For instance, Gladys is the woman that Lawe fell in love with in Massachusetts, and while he doesn’t openly admit it, part of the reason he headed to California was to find her.

The other major character is Gayle, an aspiring actress who has a Jean Harlow look and a belief that she is a better actress than the renowned star. Turns out, she, too, has a connection to Peony Springs, as well as a part in the mystery of who killed Jean Harlow’s husband.

Intermingled with the main story are news items of the period that includes the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and the mysterious death of William Desmond Taylor. Readers may wonder at first why the stories are included. Is it just for atmosphere or do they have a purpose? The answer is yes on both counts. The articles do add another layer to the authentic feel for the time and the place – Hollywood was the only happening place in the country in the early 30s – and the inclusion of those news articles has a direct link to the plot.

This is a fun, easy read in the excellent noir style Capital Crime Press is noted for publishing and as engaging as Randall’s previous book, Blood Harvest.  In it,readers were first introduced to Marshall Lawe, who is a terrific character, someone you enjoy spending a few hundred pages with and are sorry when you have to part ways.

# Paperback: 280 pages
# Publisher: Capital Crime Press (October 2009)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0979996031
# ISBN-13: 978-0979996030

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Maryann Miller — Maryann’s Web site

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