If you want to shake off the sleepiness of this beautiful warm spring, I recommend you pick up LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING. This is Peter Farris’ first published work, but is so well-formed and realized that I hesitate to call it a debut novel; to do so would be akin to calling a smack upside the head from a two-by-four in a dark room a love tap.
"A hair-trigger suspense builds throughout the tale and is given full release in the last third or so of the book, which includes one of the most hair-raising tableaus you are likely to encounter in this or possibly any other year...and an agonizingly suspenseful conclusion that you will want to read again and again."
In fact, the book reads as if it was written by Cormac McCarthy and Richard Hunter, one of them going in and adding new pages unbeknownst to the other as he sneaks out for coffee or a cigarette break. Or picture driving down a two-lane mountain road loaded with switchbacks and hairpin turns, and you feel your brakes give out just as a pickup truck comes barreling around a corner on your side of the road. There are a number of moments like that in LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING. I loved it so much (yeah, what tipped you off?) that I took it to bed with me even after I finished it.
There is nothing subtle about Farris. He is confident enough in his ability to telegraph scenes ahead of time, taunting you to go ahead and guess what is going to happen. No matter how bad you think it might be, he’s going to top your imagination. This is true from the beginning of the book, when a newly minted ex-convict, improbably and memorably named Hobe Hicklin, robs a bank in fictitious Jubilation County, Georgia, taking hapless teller Charlie Colquitt hostage and bringing representatives of the law and the lawless down upon him.
The law is represented by Tommy Lang, the local sheriff who is battling the triple demons of alcoholism, depression and advanced age, none of them successfully. The lawless manifest themselves in the forms of Leonard Lipscomb and Nathan Flock, who were to have been Hicklin’s partners in the bank robbery. In jumping the gun on the heist, Hicklin has double-crossed not only Lipscomb and Flock, but also the Aryan Brotherhood, whose tentacles extend far beyond their prison jurisdiction.
Hicklin’s impulsive action raises the stench of doom from practically the first page of LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING, not only for himself but also for almost everyone who crosses his path. It is a terrible few days for the guilty and innocent alike of Jubilation County, as the unstoppable force of Lipscomb and Flock pursue Hicklin across the rural countryside with Lang and federal law enforcement a step or two behind in dogged pursuit. A hair-trigger suspense builds throughout the tale and is given full release in the last third or so of the book, which includes one of the most hair-raising tableaus you are likely to encounter in this or possibly any other year (it takes place in a church) and an agonizingly suspenseful conclusion that you will want to read again and again. Throw in an enigmatic and haunting last paragraph, and you have a book that is going to be on the Top Ten list of anyone who reads it.
Farris may or may not be the lead singer of a hard rock band named Cable and the heir to an established literary reputation; if so, he has exceeded the promise of the latter his first time out and vented the full-throated energy of the music of the former. I literally cannot wait for his next novel. LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING is an all-consuming work whose author just seems to be warming up. Do NOT miss this one.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 1, 2012