Sent to me by Ed Duncan in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 25/11/17
Publisher: Self Published
Format: Paperback, 227pp
Summed up in a word: Intense
The Last Straw definitely cements my opinion of Ed Duncan as a reliable author. I enjoyed the erratic cat-and-mouse chase of Pigeon-Blood Red but I am relieved that this time around ED has rooted the narrative firmly in Chicago. This allowed him to properly escalate the tension surrounding the characters to boiling point which seized my attention firmly within its grasp. I enjoy the law partnering with the lawless vibe too satisfying to pass up and Ed Duncan’s passionate and gripping writing really brings this narrative together. ED isn’t trying to break new ground, he is dedicated to bringing solid crime fiction populated with interesting characters that blurs the line between legality and fairness. Full review below.
It started with a run-of-the-mill carjacking. An inner-city kid with no priors and no experience with a gun fumbled the ball, and the driver ended up dead.
A teenage girl witnessed the whole thing, and now a target has been placed on her back. The carjacker’s father, a notorious crime boss, is willing to move heaven and earth to prevent her from testifying, even if that means having a hitman kill her.
Richard “Rico” Sanders, the best in the business, was his first choice for the job. But there was a problem. He was a “killer with a conscience” and a killer with a conscience doesn’t murder teenagers. The crime boss reluctantly turns to someone who has no such qualms, John D’Angelo. There was bad blood between him and Rico, so knowing that Rico had passed on the job, he eagerly accepted it.
Rico forms an uneasy alliance with the girls lawyer, Paul Elliott, to try and protect her from the hitman. As the long-simmering feud between Rico and John D’Angelo reaches boiling point, bodies start to pile up in rapid succession… and old scores will be settled.
When I read the synopsis for The Last Straw I thought it sounded like Ed Duncan has definitely taken his writing to another level. Pigeon-Blood Red was certainly a success but it was testing the waters where as The Last Straw sees Ed Duncan relax into his ability as a writer and focus on bringing more daring narratives to his readers. Ed Duncan is creating a name for himself crafting thoughtful, passionate and gripping thrillers. The Last Straw shows us all what ED is truly capable of. He is a brilliant talent who is going to go far in the crime/thriller genre. With elements of legal drama, criminal psychology and the constant risk of death, I was hooked all the way through. Think John Grisham meets Lawrence Block.
The Last Straw returns to the story of Rico Sanders, a killer with a conscience and a strict code, and Paul Elliott, a headstrong and principled lawyer who will stop at nothing to protect those in need. When 16 year old Sandy witnesses a car-jacking that ends up with the driver shot dead, she is asked to testify as a witness. A contract on her life is issued and when Rico turns it down, another takes his place. When the assassination is botched and the girl’s father is killed instead, Paul is there to witness it. Nobody is certain who the killer was targeting was truly targeting and Paul sets about protecting Sandy from any more violence. The killer, John D’Angelo, will stop at nothing to fulfil his contract. No matter who gets in his way. D’Angelo and Rico have history that goes way back. Rico knows what he is capable of and, knowing what Paul did for him, he can’t let him get caught in the crossfire.
I thought this narrative was an improvement on his last novel. Being grounded in Chicago and focusing more on character interactions built up the tension to new and exciting levels. Paul’s story is more legally and morally focused this time around. He carries a heavy weight on his shoulders after killing a man and the fact that he has to carry a gun again deeply affects him. Protecting his humanity while facing deadly threats is messing with his head. He wants to protect Sandy, Evelyn and himself but he is conflicted and doesn’t know where the lawyer begins and this new version of himself ends. I liked Paul’s narrative as it is short and but impacts heavily on the reader. I thought he was slightly under utilised this time around as a lead character but by the end of the novel I understood what ED was trying to achieve with him so it isn’t a issue that affected my overall reading experience. The rest of the book focuses heavily on Rico’s feud with D’Angelo and trying to protect Paul from the shadows.
Rico is another conflicted character but his hardened composure, and his job as a ruthless hitman, makes him a difficult chap to read. Rico is a killer but he has a code and he never kills anyone who doesn’t have it coming. He doesn’t take out contracts on women and when he is asked to kill a young woman he respectfully declines. The fact that the contract goes to his enemy D’Angelo, who also wants Rico dead, doesn’t sit well with him. When he finds out that Paul Elliott is involved he decides to step in. He owes the man his life and Rico is an honourable man at heart. I like Rico and the fact that The Last Straw mainly focuses on him is a great thing in my eyes. Rico is efficient, enigmatic and calculated (I wish I was as self-assured and concise as Rico is, a man can dream). When D’Angelo decides that Rico’s lawyer friend is worth killing, all bets are off.
As plot-lines converge and cross wires, we get a real treat of a thriller. I thought the main plot was paced out efficiently and developed well amongst all the chaos surrounding Paul and Rico. I thought the sub-plot surrounding the mother of the car-jacker and her emotional turmoil was a welcomed addition and add another dimension to Duncan’s writing. One thing I see in Ed’s work that I don’t see very often is the fact that he stops, no matter how minutely, to flesh out his characters. It is a little flair but it makes you stop and consider everyone involved and how they could influence events. The only element of the story-telling that I struggled with with the explanation behind Rico and D’Angelo’s feud. It is overly dependant on D’Angelo’s hotheadedness and I didn’t find it overly believable but that is my own opinion. It was to me personally, the only real flaw in an otherwise solid narrative.
Ed Duncan’s writing is both passionate and precision. Taking a crime story and infusing it with so many conflicting characters. I loved the fact that Ed decided to tell this story from many different perspectives. Everyone included in this novel has a voice to some degree and it is a compelling writing style. The fluid interchanging of perspectives creates vivid depictions of all the scenarios and interactions that occur within. The vivid and descriptive intensity of some of the scenes are incendiary and I felt a part of the proceedings as I was reading along. Ed’s descriptive prowess is definitely an asset to this novel.
Ed Duncan has also decided to focus on deeper and more insightful themes such as racism, criminal psychology, morality, manipulation, codes of honour and guardian angels made the narrative much more meaningful and it was easier to invest in the characters. I also appreciated the unpredictable nature of ED’s writing. The fact that he was focused on human nature and the destructiveness that we are capable of, I was constantly unsure of how far he was willing to go with his narrative. I was surprised and pleased with the results.
Overall I was impressed by Ed Duncan’s second outing with Rico and Paul. The Last Straw is an angled thriller that, with ED’s controlled delivery, racks up the tension between its characters to their boiling points. If you haven’t read Ed’s work before then this can be read as a standalone but that isn’t a reason why you shouldn’t pick up Pigeon-Blood Red first anyway as that is a great place to start. I am looking forward to Ed Duncan’s next novel and I have no idea where he could be planning to take this series next.
About Ed Duncan
Ed Duncan is a graduate of Oberlin College and Northwestern University Law School. He was a partner at a national law firm in Cleveland, Ohio for many years. He currently lives outside of Cleveland, OH and is at work on the third installment in the Pigeon-Blood Red series. To learn more, go to http://eduncan.net/