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Head Wounds Hardcover – May 1, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Ex-boxer and former corporate exec Sam Acquillo, now a hard-drinking carpenter living in a run-down cottage on the shores of the Little Peconic Bay in Southampton, N.Y., becomes the prime suspect in the murder of local builder Robbie Milhouser in Knopf's superb third Hamptons mystery (after Two Time and The Last Refuge). With the evidence against him almost overwhelming, Acquillo enlists a misfit group of supporters to help him uncover the real killer's identity. As he digs into the dead man's troubled past, Acquillo discovers a disturbing link between Milhouser and Acquillo's current girlfriend, Amanda Battiston. Knopf excels in describing the rustic underpinnings of Long Island's east end, especially its vast array of eccentric characters. Brisk pacing and sharp dialogue carry the reader along, but it's the endearing and deeply flawed Acquillo that's the heart and soul of this exceptional series. How can you go wrong with a philosophizing hero who drinks Absolut, reads Kant, drives a '67 Grand Prix and has a dog named Eddie Van Halen? (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Sam Acquillo—ex-boxer, ex-husband, and now an Absolut-drinking construction worker on the east end of the Hamptons—shouldn’t be mixing it up with the likes of Robbie Milhouser, a local bully who flirts a bit too much with Sam’s flame, Amanda Anselma. After all, his doctors have told him that another head wound is the last thing he needs. Just as a brawl seems to be in the offing, Robbie up and dies, and Sam seems to be holding the smoking gun—that is, in this case, a staple gun that easily traces back to him. Sam, who also has some amateur sleuthing on his résumé (The Last Refuge, 2005), puts his sharp mind and caustic wit to use in tracking back how the unfortunate Robbie met his demise. The Hamptons setting provides much of the appeal here, but it’s not the Polo-playing side of the island we see but, rather, the seamier underside (yes, even the Hamptons have an underside). Slow-starting Sam makes the perfect antihero for our guided tour of the wrong side of the tracks. Another satisfying entry in an endearing series. --Mary Frances Wilkens
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Top Customer Reviews
Before the deluge, Sam Acquillo was a highly-paid systems analyst for a petrochemical company, the guy you call in an emergency to figure out what's preventing a billion-dollar system from doing what it's supposed to do. High stakes, high stress, high pay, all of it. Suffice it to say, he flames out dramatically, in high style. Imagine yourself with marriage and job on the rocks, a leftover company credit card and car, limitless time and vodka on your hands. Ah, the possibilities. Understand, this is just the background reel, separate from the actual plot of "HEAD WOUNDS", though it informs the main character's motivations in important ways. This is fun stuff, folks.
Forget everything you know and believe in, is the order of the day. The center cannot hold, because the wheel's out of round. So, drink more vodka, read Kant, and run it all by the dog, named Eddie Van Halen. There's not much holding Sam Acquillo together these days:
"I can't do it again", I said finally to Eddie. "For any reason."
I didn't like to think of myself as a middle-aged guy who sat drinking alone in the dark, talking to his dog about his fears and uncertainties. But I'd been doing that to Eddie since saving him from the pound, so he must have assumed listening to a bunch of worthless crap was part of his daily work product.
"I can't do it", I repeated.
All he did was look at me over the crumbled remains of his biscuit. I let it stand at that and finished my drink; then one or two more to be on the safe side, before letting the encyclopedia of irresolvable quanderies that continually cycled through my consciousness shift into a dream state, thereby maintaining the continuity of torment from wakefulness to sleep.
Are you beginning to dig this guy? The real fun starts when he applies his tortured but estimable problem-solving skills to his own survival, which involves a frame-up for a murder inside his community in the Hamptons. Along for the ride are a gaggle of locals, all wonderfully real flesh and blood. Knopf's specialty is intelligent, beautiful and conflicted women, which makes for some great dialogue. My one limited beef is that some of the exchanges go on one or two witticisms too long, sort of like selling past the close. But no matter; this is excellent, to-the-bone writing. In many ways, Sam Acquillo's performing the same elite specialized function as when he was in the corporate wars: he's isolating system failures - human now instead of mechanical - with limited time and resources, before the world blows up. Only now he's doing it without a salary, perks or yearly bonus. Go buy the book and see how he pulls it off.
Ex-boxer, ex-engineer Sam Acuillo, and his neighbor and lover Amanda, have their dinner out interrupted by local builder and bully Robbie Milhouser who wants his crew to work on the houses being remodeled by Amanda.
One of Amanda's houses burns down making Robbie the obvious suspect. Robbie is then found murdered by a tool with Sam's fingerprints on it. The authorities conclude Sam killed Robbie in revenge for the arson and it's up to Sam to prove his innocence.
Knopf does a wonderful job of depicting those people who live and work on Eastern Long Island year round, as opposed to the wealthy who migrate out on the weekends and in the summer.
The protagonist, Sam, is very different from the usual; he's well read, well-spoken, has a professional background but was a boxer and is now a carpenter. This book includes much more background on Sam, which I appreciated, but found it hard to track the two timelines and stronger editing might have added clarity. I did find him unnecessarily glib at times when it was stupid to be, but at other times enjoyed the humor brought to balance with drama of the story.
What I did like was the growth of the character within the plot. The story was very good with Sam working to clear himself of murder and each subplot of was critical to the story.
Knopf is a very talented writer. I'm looking forward to seeing where he takes Sam next.