A compulsive gambler goes to his sister's funeral on Florida's Treasure Coast and gets saddled with her loser-son, who is deep in debt to a vicious loan shark who sends a pair of sociopathic thugs to collect on the loan. But things go horribly awry...and soon the gambler finds himself in the center of an outrageous kidnapping plot involving a conman selling mail-order tombstones, a psychic who channels the dead and the erotically super-charged wife of a wealthy businessman. As if that wasn't bad enough, a killer hurricane is looming...
It's "Get Shorty" meets "No Country for Old Men" on a sunny Florida coast teeming with conmen and killers, the vapid and the vain, and where violent death is just a heartbeat away.
"Kakonis is a sharp new gambler in the literary crap game -- he just takes the pot." The New York Times
"Aptly compared to Elmore Leonard, Kakonis builds exquisite tension...steamy with a high-rent, low-life atmosphere...and an unforgettable cast." Publishers Weekly
"Tom Kakonis is a master of the low-life novel. Nobody does it better." Ross Thomas
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.82(d)|
About the Author
Tom Kakonis has been hailed by critics nationwide as the heir-apparent to Elmore Leonard... and for good reason. His stunning thrillers blend dark humor with gritty storytelling for compelling, and innovative crime noir capers packed with unique, sharply drawn characters and shocking twists. All of those talents are on full display in Treasure Coast, his bold new thriller from Brash Books.
But that success is built on a foundation of incredible crime writing. In his highly-praised debut Michigan Roll, Kakonis introduced Tim Waverly - a loveable gambler who constantly finds himself playing a game of survival against the odds. The Waverly series continued with Double Down and Shadow Counter, and Kakonis also penned the hilarious and harrowing Christmas car heist Criss Cross.
Kakonis took a darker turn with Blind Spot and Flawless, two mind-blowing thrillers he initially wrote under the pseudonym "Adam Barrow." Blind Spot is a tour-de-force that tracks a father's relentless, driving obsession to save his family at any cost, while Flawless, picked as a People Magazine Chiller of the Week, centers on a chilling serial killer as his perfectly-ordered life begins to crumbled when he falls in love, his imprisoned father is released, and a relentless, and sleazy, PI starts to follow the trail of bodies to his door.
And now Tom Kakonis is back with the thriller his fans have been waiting to read for years. It was worth the wait. Treasure Coast Is "Get Shorty" meets "No Country for Old Men" on a sunny Florida coast that's teeming with conmen and killers - and marks the return of Tom Kakonis at his best.
Read an Excerpt
By Tom Kakonis
Brash Books, LLCCopyright © 2014 Tom Kakonis
All rights reserved.
Like most men closing in on the benchmark forty, Jim Merriman made far more promises — to others mainly, a dwindling few yet to himself — than he knew, heart of hearts, he ever intended to keep. It was a habit by now so deeply entrenched, so much a part of him, that he wore it like a second skin: Generate an earnest pledge today; effortlessly shuck it off tomorrow. Mostly it was harmless, this habitual shortfall between oath and execution, deed and good intention. A commonplace human failing, to his thinking, small and forgivable. A way of getting by in this sorry world.
But the vow exacted from him by a dying sister — that now was giving him serious pause. Better make that acute discomfort. (If he were going to be honest with himself, for a switch, figuring — trying to figure — how to squirrel out of this one. Very unsettling.)
From across the continent, he'd been summoned to her bed of pain, where eventually, floating up out of a narcotized fog, she found the strength to peel back crusted eyelids, fix him with a fluttery gaze, and in a voice fainter than a whisper, feebler than a gasp, murmur, "Jim? That you?"
"None other," he affirmed, putting some of that fraudulent deathwatch heartiness into it.
"Said I would."
"Been here long?"
"Not long," he lied. In fact he'd been sitting there for the better part of the afternoon, studying her sleep, marveling at the relentless progress of this formidable malady, its curious manifestations. Her face, in sleep, was sunken, sallow with a greenish tint, the color of mold-infested cheese. The sockets of the eyes, hollow and dark, looked to be rimmed with a dusting of soot. A limp hand, its flesh withered and veined as a dry leaf, seemed to sprout from a forearm grotesquely swollen to Popeye proportions and out of which coiled an IV vine that leaked some colorless, powerless anodyne into her blood. Now that hand moved in an effort at a sweeping gesture. "No, here, I mean. Florida."
"I got in this morning. Leon picked me up at the airport."
"Where is he?"
"Your place. I told him to go back and crash. He looked pretty wasted."
"It's been hard for him," she said.
"He'll be OK."
"You think so?"
"How about you?" he asked. "They treating you right here?"
"They do what they can."
"Well, you need anything, you just let me know," he said, more confidently than he felt — as if he had a direct hotline to the nerve center of the AMA and could make the quacks jump at his barked command. Hotline to nowhere was what he had.
She nodded dismally, said nothing.
To put something into the oppressive silence, he launched a wandering monologue, picking his topics cautiously, from the security of the distant past mostly, skirting that phantom third presence in the room, Lord Death, with his constrictive time horizons. "Remember that time..." he'd begin a tale, lifted from their shared heartland childhood, and through the malleable prism of inventive memory, he'd mutate some perfectly ordinary incident into an adventure antic. Outrageously the tales grew in the telling, spinning the sunny Leave It to Beaver mythology of a tight, joyous, loving family life. Pure fabrication of course. All of it. The sorry truth was that, apart from the accident of birth, they'd never had much in common, never been particularly close. Nevertheless he wore on, mouth running tirelessly, until at last the grab bag of hilarious anecdotes was depleted, the memory-lane tour exhausted, and again a desolate silence settled over the room.
The somber interval lengthened. After a while she filled it. "Jim?"
Eyes tearing over, she said, not as a question, "There's not much time left, is there."
"Oh, I don't know about that. Nurse out there says you're holding your own."
"Will you do something for me?" she asked, ignoring the blatant falsehood.
"Whatever I can."
"It's Leon. He's all alone now. So helpless. Like a child. Will you watch out for him?"
"Sure, I'll give the kid a hand" is what he told her. Another in that legion of empty pledges. Slippery, purposely vague. The kind of thing you search for to say. Should have been enough.
Except she couldn't leave it alone. "Promise?"
"Hey, you can count on me," he said lightly, conscious of the sickly smile tacked on his face.
"Need to hear you say it, Jim."
"Uh, what's that?" he asked, stalling, averting his eyes from that pleading, miseried gaze, unblinking now, insistent.
So, cornered, he heard his voice utter that one too, the "p" word, figuring, Why not? What's the damage? Whatever it took to help her exit gracefully, or as graceful as anyone riddled by outlaw cells, wildly multiplying even as they spoke, could ever exit. It was only words. Nothing lost, no one really hurt.
His first mistake. First of many.
Ten minutes later he stood outside the entrance to the Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, idly puffing a cigarette. A nurse, briskly efficient, professionally cheery, her smile as starched as her uniform, had appeared only a moment after the vow-taking ceremony (nice timing, those mercy angels) and shooed him out of the room, chirping something about "Time for meds" and whatever other ghoulish things they did to keep the croakee wheezing and earn their pay. OK by him. Welcome break from the white world of the hospital and its clash of pungent perfumes, its soiled bedsheets, lemony cleansing solutions, acrid antiseptics, hothouse flowers, rank festering flesh.
The slanting rays of the sun, still fierce on an immense slate of bleached sky, steamed the hospital lawn, glued the parking-lot tar. The dank air resonated with the atonal hum of insect energy. Symphony of famished worms, he thought ruefully, gathering for the feast waiting just on the other side of this door.
A sudden mournful ache, hollow and unfocused, overtook him. But whom did he really mourn? An expiring sister in there, seldom seen, scarcely known, barely recognizable anymore, soon to be floating out of herself? No, it was himself he sorrowed for, himself, a couple of weeks short of a milestone birthday, half a lifetime squandered, pissed away, and dying just as surely as she, only daily, increment by increment, puff by puff. Conducting his own requiem in advance, dirge supplied courtesy of an invisible swarm of bugs.
What they're doing, these crusading nicotine zealots, by banishing us from their haloed presence, he further reflected, dourly now, is creating a breed of solitary, morbid philosophers. Seekers of occult mystery in wisps of smoke.
His cigarette had grown a tail of ash. He ground it under a heel, defiantly lit another. And just as he put a flame to it, a most handsome woman clad in a satiny blouse and designer jeans came through the door, paused, fished a pack of Capris from a Gucci bag slung over her shoulder, and shook one loose. The flame in his hand still flickered, and so in that wordless bond that links a renegade fraternity, he offered it to her. She favored him with a small smile and ever so lightly touched his hand in a steadying gesture. Fetching gesture, fetching smile. Up close this way, he could see she wasn't young but not yet old either, a ripened thirtyish somewhere; by his best estimate, forty tops. Around a plume of smoke, she said, "Another second-class citizen?"
"They're turning us into a bunch of sneaks."
"Or worse yet, wimps. Where's Bogie when we need him?"
"Who?" she asked.
"Humphrey Bogart. Remember him? Tough as nails, and he always had a weed stuck in his face."
"How about Bette Davis? Nobody crossed her."
"There you are."
One thing you had to give your habit — it was an instant ice-breaker. Something to be said for that, particularly when your commiserator comes equipped with a dizzying cascade of platinum curls; good bone geometry; skin lacquered to a high sheen; a generous crimson-glossed mouth; eyes a cool blue but with a glint of worldly mischief in them; and pliant, slightly plumpish curves under a fashion-statement outfit. Like this one did. All of which he assimilated in a sly sidelong glance, as he no longer pondered his own mortality but rather the enduring quality of lust, how it occasionally nods but never really sleeps.
"You visiting somebody?" she asked him, turning the talk elsewhere, extending it. Promising signal.
"A sister," Jim said.
"Is it serious?"
"That's a shame."
He shrugged. "Yeah, well, cancer always wins."
She took a long, meditative pull on her Capri. The third finger of the cigarette-bearing hand, he noticed, was bedecked with a gaudy rock the size of a boulder. Generally — though not absolutely, in his experience — a bad signal. In a stagy, breathy voice, she said, "I'm real sorry."
"No need to be," he said with mock solemnity. "Doctors determined it wasn't your fault."
For a sliver of an instant, she looked perplexed. Then, as she got it, her smile widened, displaying an abundance of teeth, dazzling as neon and much too perfect to be anything but orthodontist enhanced. Jim gave her back his player smile, oblique, distant, hint of evasiveness in it. Dueling grins.
Hers departed first, displaced by an earnest expression. "Is she centered?"
"Centered," she repeated, as though the echo explained itself.
"Afraid I don't follow," he said, baffled by the corkscrew twist in the conversation and wondering if maybe this time the joke wasn't on him.
"Like, in tune with her spiritual center."
Evidently no joke. "Well," he said, "we've never been what you'd call God-fearing people. She taught math, some community college down here. Numbers are — were — her religion."
"Got nothing to do with religion," she declared, a little impatiently.
"No? What then?"
"Energy. Strictly energy. See, I read this book by this Indian guy — from India, I mean, not your American kind — where he shows how we're all a part of this one big spirit. Only he calls it energy. Cosmic energy. And it's, like, steady. Never changes, never dies. What we call 'dying' is just trading energies."
"That's a comfort."
"And what you got to do," she plowed on, voice elevating urgently, "when your body's ready to pass, is zero in on it, your place in this energy field. That's what centering is. Sort of like finding your way home."
"Interesting theory," Jim allowed, thinking they all have to come with some wart, physical or otherwise. Even the best of them, like this dumpling of sex here, with the loopy-energy hair up her sweet apple ass. Too bad. Terrible waste.
"Changed my life, I can tell you."
"Bet it did at that."
"What I do now," she said, "is try and help people get in touch with it. Their energy center. That's why I'm here. My best girlfriend's mother — she's about to pass too."
Sounded to him like some spiritual fart cutting, with her being the therapeutic Gas-X. But what he said was, "Sounds sort of like volunteer work."
"Guess you could call it that. See, growing up, I wanted to be a nurse. Never did make it, so this is the next best thing."
"You? A nurse?"
"I always wanted to help people."
Yeah, right. "I see," he said cautiously, radar suddenly alert for a scam coming on.
"So you think she's centered yet?"
"Who we're talking about here.. .your sis."
"You got me."
"If you want, I could speak to her."
Finally the pitch. Everybody peddling something. Pretty prosperous clip too, by the looks of that stone weighting her finger. Unless, of course, it was fake. "Appreciate the offer," Jim said, "but I don't think she'd be very receptive." Figured that'd be the end of it. Any good fleecer knows when it's time to book.
Figured wrong. "OK," she said breezily and, in yet another of those bootleg turns, added, "You're not from around here, are you?"
"How could you tell?"
"You guessed right."
"Reno, Vegas — they're like Florida," she said. "Nobody's from there."
"So? Originally where?"
"No kidding!" she exclaimed. "Me too. I'm from Bismark."
"That's in North Dakota."
"I expect maybe it is. There's not all that many of us, either province."
"Hey, don't I know? That's why we got to stick together. What I always say is, 'When you're from Dakota, you got to be good.' "
Jim regarded her narrowly. A corner of her wide mouth was lifted once again in a suggestion of a smile, artful, provocative, faintly amused. The naughty mischief he'd seen earlier, thought he'd seen, all but given up on during the energy drone, shimmered behind her eyes. "By that," he said, choosing his words carefully (for if four decades had taught him any lesson at all, it was that a man never knew when he was going to get lucky), "do you mean 'nice good'? Or oh, say, 'skillful good,' 'accomplished'?"
Before she could reply, a sleek silver Porsche swung into the lot and lurched to an idling stop twenty or so yards from where they stood. A head — male, jowly, squinty eyed, round, and hairless as a billiard ball — poked out of the driver's-side window like a wary turtle emerging from its shell. She gave it a high-handed wave, a big theatrical welcoming grin, calling, "Hi, honey. Be right with you." To Jim she stage-whispered, "The big doolie arrives."
"The worse half."
She lowered the waving hand, abruptly thrust it at him. "Been real nice talking to you."
Jim took the offered hand. Grip was surprisingly firm; the shake snappy, businesslike. "Same here," he said.
"My name's Billie. Billie Swett."
"You got it. Like in the perspiration, only with an 'e' and two 't's. Cute, huh?"
"Well, everybody's got to be named something."
"And you are?"
"Merriman," she repeated, the tantalizing shimmer not quite gone out of her eyes. "You don't look so merry to me."
"Inside I'm laughing."
"Listen, you change your mind — about your sister, I mean — I'll be at the hospital here. Next couple days anyway. Ask around. They know me in there."
"I'll be watching."
The Porsche's horn bleated. The turtle head squawked, "C'mon, honey. We're runnin' late."
"I'm coming, hon," she called back sweetly, but under her breath, softly, though not so soft as to be inaudible, she muttered, "Asshole."
Across lawn and lot, she sauntered, loose easy stride, studied sway in the shapely hips. Into the Porsche she climbed, pecked the turtle on the cheek, checked her reflection in the rearview, patted and primped the cotton candy ringlets. And with that the two honeys were gone, sped away, leaving Jim to speculate now on the quirky nature of luck, which, he suspected, like gold, was where you found it.
* * *
For the next seventy-two hours, he and Leon took turns: six on, six off. Bedside sentinels. Or boneyard vultures, Jim caught himself thinking during one of his on shifts, with an effort to push the grisly image from his head. Mostly his sister slept, though now and again, she'd drift out of a morphine-induced stupor long enough to mumble incoherently. Something about snow. Luckily for him, the Leon promise seemed to be buried in dying dreams dominated by snow.
As for that other category of luck, it proved fickle. The lush Billie Swett, mistress of assorted energies, was nowhere to be found. Not that he didn't search. On the occasional (well, frequent actually, as the days plodded on) break in a tedious watch, he'd scout the hospital corridors, peering into rooms, feigning confusion. Or plant himself outside the entrance again, chaining smokes on the off chance of another accidental encounter. Or stop by the nurses' station to remark, elaborately casual, "I don't suppose you've seen Mrs. Swett today," a transparent query that invariably got him either a negative head bob or helpless shrug, both often as not accompanied by a knowing smirk. No Mrs. Swett in evidence. Toward the end of the long vigil, he'd pretty much resigned himself to the harsh proposition that, for him anyway, luck and gold forever would remain equally elusive.
Excerpted from Treasure Coast by Tom Kakonis. Copyright © 2014 Tom Kakonis. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Noir storytelling does not have to be set in the dead of night to be dark. It can occur in sunny locales like the South Florida of Tom Kakonis's tale of a cardsharp, the grifters and toughs he meets and the woman he may love. Maybe it's just me but there's one thing that noir must be: brief. For this type of storytelling to cast the proper spell, go easy on the prose. Say a lot with a little. While Kakonis writes well, he takes too long to get to the point way too often. Since he seems to take Elmore Leonard as a model for his tale, he should have taken to heart Dutch's rule to take out all the parts people don't read. Unfortunately, I found myself skimming many of the passages, looking for dialogue to break the monotony. Also, he could take a lesson or two from Leonard about making his villains a bit more distinctive and even a bit likable. Three and a half stars; should have been more.
Kakonis is a master at creating distinctive and interesting characters. This story has a great plot, but the people in the story provide rich interest and excitement far beyond the story arc. The words used to describe characters provide a mental image that makes each person real. Use of street vernacular further enhances the narrative. The ending was spectacular. It is a quick read, but very satisfying.