Lest you think I am some sort of elitist snob wannabe with all this talk of high culture let’s talk about something a little less serious. As I have mentioned before, I enjoy a good thriller on occasion so I was excited to get a chance to read William Lashner’s Past Due in advance of its release. I am not familiar with Lashner’s other works but the story line seemed intriguing. Victor Carl, a reoccurring Lashner character, gets caught up in a complex web of deception and murder when one of his rather dead beat clients – appropriately nicknamed Joey Cheaps – gets killed. Having a client knocked off before he pays his bill is bad enough, but to complicate matters before he was killed Joey told Victor a secret involving a previously undisclosed murder and a suitcase full of money. Victor is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery – in part out of loyalty to his dead client and in part to try and recoup his monetary losses through a wrongful death lawsuit. But the more Victor digs the more trouble he seems to find. Money, power, drugs, sex, and murder – sounds interesting.
There are two things that make Past Due stand out from the average crime/legal thriller. One is the main character Victor Carl. Here is a description of Victor from the dust jacket:
A defense attorney who lives his life in shades of gray, Victor Carl fights all the right fights for all the wrong reasons. With a failing legal practice, a dead-end love life, a pile of unpaid traffic tickets, and a talent for mixing it up in tough working-class bars and sparring with obstinate cops, Victor skates on the razor’s edge of legal ethics in search of the easy buck.
It is Victor’s personality that drives Past Due. His stubbornness drives him to keep digging no matter what; his smart ass attitude gets him trouble but his gut instincts often bail him out; his tough exterior makes him seem like an SOB but his loyalty and sense of justice earns him a kind of guarded respect.
The other thing that stands out in Past Due is the mix of the standard thriller ingredients noted above with the more novelistic themes of family dysfunction and regret. While Victor is interacting with crime bosses, drug smugglers, FBI investigators, Supreme Court Justices and their sensual wives, and a host of other characters in and around Philadelphia he is also coming to grips with the potential death of his seriously ill father and the distance between him and his alcoholic mother. Lashner uses an interesting tool to weave these themes together. When Victor visits his father in the hospital his father insists on telling him the story of the girl who got away – the regret that has haunted his father his entire life. In this way Lashner alternates between fast paced action and the emotional reconnection between Victor and his father. This allows the reader to get a better sense of Victor, his childhood and the emotions that drive him.
I have somewhat mixed feelings about this approach. In some ways it gives the work some depth allowing Lashner to explore issues not usually tackled in a straightforward legal/crime thriller. But it also unduly distracts the reader from the story and, at times, feels like a reach. The story Victor’s father relates is interesting but ultimately unrelated to the plot. Given that the book is almost five hundred pages in the copy I received, I think some editing would have been helpful. Did we really need to have Victor go out on a date with his Dad’s doctor? And then cool on her because she likes cats a bit too much?
The writing is strong throughout, however, and the characters are interesting – Victor Carl in particular. The plot is complex enough and the twists keep you guessing and reading, but the story does seem to wander a bit and lacks pace at times. I guess I prefer my thrillers a little tighter. Quibbles aside, Past Due is an entertaining and creative read. If you like unique characters involved in complex plots with plenty of twists and turns, then you will enjoy Past Due.