THE COLDEST MILE by Tom Piccirilli (2009)

Review by Mike Dennis, 2010

How would you like to take a job where your employer cuts your predecessor’s stomach open before your very eyes? Well, that’s what’s offered to the central character in the opening of The Coldest Mile, a 2009 blow-em-out hardboiled tale by Tom Piccirilli.

He’s called Chase, and we learn that he was raised as a grifter by his grandfather, Jonah, who pulled him out of a foster home and straight into a life of crime. Now, as a twentysomething adult, he’s on his own. Jonah, now in his sixties, and who is one hardass dude, has plenty of blood on his hands. But he’s still deep inside Chase’s head, for more reasons than one.

Immediately after Chase takes the job as chauffeur for a disintegrating New Jersey crime family, he runs into problems, all of his own making. He’s not given to following orders too closely, he talks back, shows no respect, and pushes the family’s gunmen around. The reader can’t help but think he’s going to get whacked any second.

Referring to a previous Piccirilli novel, The Cold Spot, a dense backstory is cleverly revealed in bits and pieces, letting the reader in on the complex relationship between Chase and Jonah. In The Coldest Mile, Chase wants to find him again, but for very different reasons.

Piccirilli, an award-winning author of some twenty novels, knows how to write this stuff. He keeps the reader’s eyes on the page with lots of stinging prose and tough dialogue. He takes us with Chase to Florida, where the criminals are decidedly minor league, and gives us a finely-tuned feel of the messiness of their organizations.

He also draws a clear connection between Chase and Jonah. It’s an ambivalent one, filled with both resentment and respect, but most of all, it is riveting, and forms the emotional core of the novel.

Through Chase’s memories, Jonah’s character is well-drawn before he ever actually walks onto the page. When he finally does appear, he steals every scene he’s in, whether Piccirilli wants him to or not, and he very nearly steals the entire novel. By then, however, the reader is totally ready for one of the most hardened, uncompromising characters he will ever encounter.

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