The Last Goodbye
From the opening paragraph of THE LAST GOODBYE, the reader knows
that this tale of mystery, suspense and romance is going to be
special. That introduction --- only a few sentences, sentences that
say so little yet tell so much --- creates an air of quiet
foreboding that permeates this somber, electrifying story of greed,
faith and, in the end, hope.
Reed Arvin showed promise with his earlier work. THE WILL is a
modern-day morality tale about gaining the world and losing a soul.
Hints of Arvin's potential were seeded throughout THE WILL; reading
that fine novel, however, hardly prepares one for THE LAST
THE WILL was set primarily in rural Kansas, with occasional
glimpses of Chicago as a method of providing contrast, but little
more. THE LAST GOODBYE takes place entirely in present-day Atlanta,
a city full of history (which it revises and rewrites each day), a
place that proudly describes itself as "too busy to hate."
Passions, however, still run high, as this book demonstrates.
Jack Hammond is the story's narrator. He's a rising star in one of
Hot-lanta's white shoe law firms until a violation of ethics
results in a tragedy that he should have foreseen. Reduced to
taking court-appointed criminal cases in a law firm of one, Hammond
is surprised to learn that Doug Townsend, a college friend (and, so
Hammond tells us, the reason why he became a lawyer), is dead from
a drug overdose. But there are puzzling circumstances associated
with his death. Townsend was making strong efforts toward recovery
from drug addiction and, more significantly, had died from an
injection overdose --- a strange ending for a man who was terrified
of needles. Dissatisfied with the official version of events,
Hammond begins his own inquiry.
When one represents the bottom strata of criminal society, one
acquires all sorts of contacts. One of Hammond's is a computer
hacker named Nightmare, an enigmatic, amoral character who assists
Hammond in hacking into Townsend's computer, which contains
information that puts Hammond onto the discovery of an experimental
drug trial gone horribly wrong. This finding dovetails with
Hammond's meeting and his infatuation with Michelle Sonnier, an
opera singer of unparalleled ability and beauty --- who herself is
unhappily involved in a marriage of convenience with the CEO of a
pharmaceutical company. There are levels, and dangers, to Sonnier
that Hammond cannot even begin to imagine, but he deepens his
involvement with her even as he realizes that doing so is becoming
increasingly more dangerous for himself, and for her.
Arvin slices easily through multiple levels of the Atlanta societal
stratum --- economic, racial, political --- dropping little
breadcrumbs of local commentary through a complex plot that keeps
the reader interested and on-track. Though Hammond is an attorney,
THE LAST GOODBYE is anything but a courtroom thriller; Hammond is
less a Joe Antonelli and more a rumpled knight in the vein of
Travis McGee or Lew Archer. It is unclear whether more will be seen
of Hammond in the future. What is certain, however, is that we will
see more, much more, from Arvin. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011