Wednesday, March 11, 2015

From Tom Kakonis, A Trio of Characters Who Are Anything But Flawless

Sometime back in the late 1990s, I stumbled across Tom Kakonis's great three-book series featuring professional gambler Timothy Waverly, whose business card billed him as an "Applied Probabilities Analyst." Waverly was a unique and very interesting protagonist; the plots were intriguing with a lot of action and just enough droll humor to remind the reader of Kakonis's fellow Michigan author, Elmore Leonard.

I devoured the Waverly trilogy and then found Criss Cross, an equally entertaining standalone from 1990. And then, much to my dismay, I discovered that Kakonis had apparently retired after the last Waverly novel and had not written anything else. I was very pleased to learn then, a number of months ago, that the folks at Brash Books were re-releasing Kakonis's four novels in beautiful new trade paperback editions. Even better, they were also publishing a new Kakonis book, Treasure Coast, which I read as soon as I could get my hands on a copy and which I also thoroughly enjoyed.

It now turns out that Kakonis did, in fact, write two additional novels in the mid-1990s, that were published under the pseudonym, Adam Barrow. Happily, Brash books is republishing these title too, now under Mr. Kakonis's name. The first of the two, which was first published in 1995, is Flawless.

This is a very intriguing tale that focuses principally on three major characters who are anything but flawless. The first is Michael Woodrow, whose appearance, at least, might well be described as flawless. Michael is a young corporate consultant who specializes in healing ailing companies, mainly by axing large numbers of their employees. To say that he's a bit tightly wound would be a gross understatement. He excels at his job, is unmarried and appears to have little interest in women. The problem is that he's enormously attractive to women, especially to a certain kind of woman--ripe, early forties, married and who likes to play around. Once in a very great while, Michael will allow such a woman to pick him up and take him home. But the evening always turns out very badly for the lady involved.

The second principal character is Michael's father, Norman. Once a professor of English literature, Norman is fresh out of prison and now lives with Michael in Michael's condominium near Chicago. As a practical matter, Norman lives there alone, given that Michael is always on the road and often is not home for weeks at a time. Unemployed and on his own, Norman is driven by an inner muse to set down on paper the circumstances of his life, focusing on the events that led to his imprisonment. He spends his days smoking up a storm while staring at a blank page and waiting for inspiration to strike.

Finally, there's Victor Flam, a somewhat seedy, mid-forties private investigator from Palm Beach Florida, who is hired by a wealthy woman named Mrs. Roland Swales. Her daughter, Shelley, was savagely murdered and the police have had no luck in turning up a suspect. Flam takes the case and begins digging into Shelley's life. He too finds little to go on, and none of Shelley's friends or co-workers is able to be of help.

Flam notices that the one thing out of the ordinary that appeared to be going on in the victim's life at the time of her death was the fact that Michael Woodrow's consulting firm had a team working at the place where Shelley was employed. Hoping that one of the team members might have noticed something that no one else did, Flam begins tracking them down.

In the meantime, Norman Woodrow is working on his narrative one morning when he's interrupted by a knock on the door. He opens the door to find the new next-door neighbor, Lizabeth Seaver. The attractive young woman is a school teacher, newly arrived in town, and is just moving into her condo. She's having a problem with her hot water heater and has no phone yet with which to call a repairman.

Norman, normally a solitary soul, is somehow taken with the young woman and agrees to take a look at the problem. The pilot light has died, gas is leaking, and oblivious to the danger, Lizabeth attempts to illuminate the situation by snapping her lighter. Norman snuffs out the flame with his palm, saving both of their lives, and the two begin a curious friendship.

Kakonis sets these characters into motion and the end result is a very unusual and interesting crime novel. I found it riveting and loved watching the way the characters interacted and the way the plot moved toward its surprising conclusion. For most readers, I suspect, the book will rise or fall principally with the character of Norman Woodrow. Norman speaks and writes like the professor of English literature he once was, often to the confusion of the other characters, and he gets a lot of page time, particularly as he reconstructs the story of his life. Personally, I found the character fascinating and totally unique. I was a long time finally getting to this book, but it was well worth the wait.

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