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Last Looks

Review

Last Looks

You may not recognize the name Howard Michael Gould, but you know his work as the head writer on a number of popular television comedies. Gould has recently turned his hand to detective fiction, and if his debut novel is any indication, one can only wish that he had done so before now. He has created a unique protagonist and set him against the backdrop of contemporary southern California in a very original and engrossing manner, one that will keep you reading nonstop for hours.

LAST LOOKS introduces Charlie Waldo to the annals of detective fiction. We meet the former LAPD detective as he is living as a minimalist recluse almost entirely off the grid on the outskirts of a small artists’ community near Los Angeles. Waldo, as we learn early on, obsessively and compulsively limits his possessions to, as he puts it, “One Hundred Things.” It is part of a self-imposed penance for an understandable yet tragic mistake he made three years prior to the book’s present while he was a rising star in the Homicide Division of the LAPD. Afterward, he didn’t so much burn bridges behind him as blow them up and melt them down. Now, Waldo receives regular visits only from his mailman, eschewing regular tonsorial duties and applying his minimalist lifestyle to personal hygiene and haberdashery.

"Gould’s scriptwriting experience shines through here. Each page contains a number of crystal-clear images that beg for translation to video... There’s also some humor in just the right places to keep things from becoming too dark."

At least the visiting part changes when his ex-wife, Lorena, suddenly appears without notice and with a proposition. Lorena, who runs a mid-size private investigation agency, is representing a well-known television star accused of murdering his wife. A difficult human being, Alastair Pinch is well beyond being a practicing alcoholic, having graduated to veteran status. He was extremely well-toasted on the night that his wife was killed in their palatial home, so much so that he freely admits he doesn’t know whether or not he was responsible for her death. Lorena wants Waldo in the mix due to his investigative acumen and notoriety. She has barely left his Walden Pond-like digs when he is subjected to two more visits: one from another client of Lorena who thinks she left him something incriminating, and the other by a group of toughs who warn him off the Pinch case.

A reluctant but intrigued Waldo journeys to Los Angeles --- a place that he never thought he would visit again --- to try to extricate himself from things, but it’s not that easy. He gets involved in spite of himself --- particularly when Lorena goes missing and is subsequently found in her burned-up automobile --- not only with the murder case but also with the kindergarten teacher at the school that Alastair’s daughter attends. He gets knocked around a couple more times before getting to the truth of the matters. Matters? You bet. One, of course, is the murder whodunit, and the other involves a passel of secrets, one of which affects Waldo himself. There are many twists and turns before LAST LOOKS concludes, and while the book is complete in itself, one or two issues are left dangling that just might provide fodder for future installments, should Gould see fit.

Gould’s scriptwriting experience shines through here. Each page contains a number of crystal-clear images that beg for translation to video while making it ultimately unnecessary. There’s also some humor in just the right places to keep things from becoming too dark. Even the dedication at the beginning of the novel is terrific, not only hinting at Gould’s comedic chops but also showing that the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Additionally, one of the running jokes here involves the uniform reaction to Waldo from those who know him but have not seen him since his three-years-and-counting, self-imposed exile. Each and all greet him with the same cheerfully profane exclamation, and understandably so.

Waldo is a smart but tough guy in the sense that he can take a beating and somehow recover. Hopefully he will avail himself of a neurological workup at some point after the last page of this book and the first page of its successor. We want him back, and we want him back whole.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 7, 2018

Last Looks
by Howard Michael Gould

  • Publication Date: August 14, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton
  • ISBN-10: 152474249X
  • ISBN-13: 9781524742492