Tis the Season...Here's M.R.'s December recommendation
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.
Why for December?
Scott Phillip's cool assured prose creates a clear almost palpable mood of small town self destruction, and the glimmer that their my a horizon. The Ice Harvest is a wonderful Neo Noir novel with a dark array of distinct characters, crackling dialogue and Phillip's use of the holiday season never comes off as tacky, but rather as a layer of crime to the residents of Wichita