Earlier this year, New Pulp Press reprinted Lynn Kostoff’s debut novel, A CHOICE OF NIGHTMARES, which was originally published in 1991. I have a copy of that one but haven’t read it yet, but I’ve just read Kostoff’s brand-new novel, LATE RAIN, published by Tyrus Books.
LATE RAIN is a crime novel set in Magnolia Beach, South Carolina (“The other Myrtle Beach”, as a billboard on the road coming into town proclaims). Stanley Tedros is the elderly owner of a regional soft drink bottling and distributing company that’s poised to go national. He has a very lucrative buy-out offer from a national company on the table, but he refuses to take it, which annoys his ambitious daughter-in-law Corinne, who has a shady past that she’s trying to hide. Corinne knows she can get her husband Buddy to do whatever she wants, so she decides her life would be a lot better if Stanley was dead and Buddy inherited the company. She sets out to make that happen.
Meanwhile, former homicide detective Ben Decovic is working as a patrol officer in Magnolia Beach, handling all sorts of petty crimes and trying to deal with his own tragic past. When Stanley Tedros is murdered, Ben winds up investigating and becoming involved with the family of the only witness, an elderly former building contractor named Jack Carson who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and can’t really give the police any useful information.
Naturally, Corinne’s plans don’t work out exactly the way she wants them to, and things get out of control, resulting in several more murders. Kostoff keeps all the plotlines perking along nicely, weaving them together into a fast-paced, very well-written novel. The prose is terse and hardboiled but has plenty of poetic touches, but where Kostoff really shines is in his handling of the characters. The “cop with a dark past” bit has been done a lot, but Kostoff makes Ben Decovic believable and sympathetic. Corinne is evil but human at the same time, and the assorted criminal lowlifes who populate the book are both funny and scary. The highlight of the book for me, though, is Jack Carson. Writing from the point of view of someone with Alzheimer’s had to be a tricky task, but Kostoff manages to do so with plenty of poignancy that never turns into pathos. It’s a really nice achievement.
Overall, so is LATE RAIN. It reminds me a little of the work of Elmore Leonard, only it’s more tightly plotted. This is an excellent novel that makes me eager to read Kostoff’s earlier books.