“The last kind words ever spoken to Jesus were spoken by a thief. We were the first let into heaven. Thieves are pardoned.” These words spoken by Terrier “Terry” Rand to the priest presiding over his uncle’s funeral mark a significant moment in this novel’s third and final act, while also providing the muse for the title of this brilliantly dark work by Tom Piccirilli.
"Tom Piccirilli has created a crime noir mystery as hard-boiled as any in recent memory, recalling the work of Chandler, Pelecanos and Connelly.... [R]eaders literally will be pinned to their seats until the last page is turned. It is surely destined for serious award consideration in 2012 as one of the year’s finest crime novels."
THE LAST KIND WORDS is about the Rands, a notorious Long Island crime family with generations of grifters and petty thieves amongst their legion. They are famous not for using weapons, but for devoting their time to honing their con-game and thievery skills. This all changes when Collie Rand goes on a senseless killing spree and is incarcerated. He is given the death penalty and is scheduled to die from lethal injection at the time this tale begins.
Collie’s younger brother, Terrier “Terry,” has left the family for several years and tried to make a living as a ranch hand. It is when Terry receives a cryptic phone call from his younger sister, Dale, beckoning him to come home and meet with Collie on death row that he begrudgingly returns to the Long Island clan he had left in his rear-view mirror.
The Rands are not the Corleones or the Sopranos, but a distinctly unique dysfunctional group of characters who accept what they are and don’t seem to have a problem with it. Even the fact that the men are all named after dogs --- Collie, Terrier, Malamute, Pinscher, etc. --- does not seem strange to them or the Long Island community that knows the infamous history of the Rands.
When Terry first visits with Collie in prison, he is uneasy and does not know what to expect. The last thing he figured on was his brother claiming that one of the murders with which he was tagged was not committed by him. Worse than that, Collie implores Terry to persuade whoever he can to help find the actual culprit who is still preying on young Long Island girls.
Terry does not believe Collie, but agrees to honor his brother’s wish. He tries to get a local police detective named Gilmore to work with him --- as Gilmore has remained strangely close to the Rand family --- but even he feels it is an open and shut case. Terry does continue on his own and even visits the sister of the murdered girl in question, Rebecca Clarke. He finds himself, against his will, starting to believe that there may be something to Collie’s claim of innocence in this murder. When Rebecca’s sister also turns up dead of an apparent suicide, Terry is convinced that something sinister is going on.
Little does Terry know that Collie is not the only Rand guilty of extreme sin, and there are some parts of his own family’s history that could prove fatal if uncovered --- even by another Rand. As Terry puts it at one point in the novel, “It’s the nature of my family. We’re all contrary.”
Tom Piccirilli has created a crime noir mystery as hard-boiled as any in recent memory, recalling the work of Chandler, Pelecanos and Connelly. The Rand family is such an interesting collection of characters that it’s difficult not to like them, and Piccirilli has masterfully brought each of them to life with all their complexities and foibles. THE LAST KIND WORDS is impossible to put down, and readers literally will be pinned to their seats until the last page is turned. It is surely destined for serious award consideration in 2012 as one of the year’s finest crime novels.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 6, 2012