For all that it involves organized crime, naked women, grumpy bouncers, a serious snowstorm, and a hero with a profound drinking pattern, The Ice Harvest
is a quiet little book--noir-ish, certainly, but never to excess. As the novel traces Charlie Arglist's trail around his small Kansas hometown on Christmas Eve, 1979, the lawyer's literal footprints are clear enough, given the whopper of a blizzard that's descended, but his metaphorical path is far less obvious. He's killing time before leaving town, but where is he going? And why?
Scott Phillips' sketch of a crooked lawyer on the lam is amusingly ironic: though there's violence aplenty in the novel--including a morbidly comic finger-breaking scene starring Spencer, a philosophical bouncer at the Sweet Cage, one of the strip clubs Charlie oversees for Bill Gerard--this is Waiting for Godot rather than Goodfellas. Phillips masterfully sets up the reader's expectations for action and adventure, dropping cryptic hints about Charlie's past, present, and future, then gleefully keeps Charlie in a holding pattern, circling from one strip club to another, from bars to massage parlors to his former in-laws' house.
But when the world isn't scripted by Beckett, all waiting games must come to an end. Charlie's gamble--it would be cheating to tell you more than that it involves a little cocaine, a beautiful woman of indeterminate origin, a Christmas package full of cash, and an embarrassing photograph--pays off, and he heads out of town. How far does he get? Well, that's another story--and another opportunity for Phillips to show off the mordant humor that may brand him as the Cohen brothers' literary heir apparent. In his hands, Kansas doesn't seem far at all from Fargo. --Kelly Flynn
From Publishers Weekly
Everywhere you look, trashy people are doing trashy things in this darkly delicious debut comic thriller. Set in the middle of a Christmas Eve blizzard in 1979 Wichita, the novel opens with lawyer-turned-petty-mobster Charlie Arglist marking time before an important meeting with his shady partner, Vic Cavanaugh. After this meeting he plans to leave Wichita hurriedly with a load of cash and, presumably, the enmity of its rightful owner, Bill Gerard, the local head of a larger regional crime syndicate. Charlie and Vic run a string of strip bars around Wichita for Gerard, from which they have been skimming cash on the sly. But Charlie, who sets out to visit all the outposts in his "empire" one last time, lets a drunken spirit of Yuletide sentimentality (or maybe spite) trigger an unprecedented (and therefore highly visible) string of improvisations. He comps some of his dancers' shakedown money, causing a riot at a club; he unwisely lets his would-be girlfriend in on one of Gerard's blackmail scams. Then he and his ex-brother-in-law crash the Christmas gathering of their cumulative ex-family, setting off a whole new string of disasters. For Charlie there is only the imminent future of his escape with Gerard's money, and it isn't until he discovers a fresh corpse buried behind Vic's empty house that he realizes that his future isn't what it used to be. Newcomer Phillips's seedy characters are skillfully developed, particularly the semiremorseful Charlie. The frigid Midwestern setting is the perfect frame for Charlie's wretched situation; the time period emphasizes the low-level viciousness of Charlie's contemporaries, and Phillips wastes no time in piling up the bodies. Charlie's final confrontation with Gerard will likely leave readers nauseated with laughterAaltogether not a bad way to debut in crime fiction. Agent, Nicole Aragi at Watkins-Loomis. Rights sold in the U.K., Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.