The Last RefugeThe Last Refuge by Chris Knopf

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

i can’t say much about this book unless my comments are full of spoilers, so guess what! it’s full of spoilers. consider yourself warned.

i like books about busted-up people–people who’ve been used hard by life, who’ve failed to come home from the wars without scars. for me, that’s where all the beauty of humanity is: in the damaged, the ragged, the hard-won experience. particularly when, despite the rusty patches on the armor, that person is still trying very hard to Do the Right Thing, whatever that Thing might be.

so i was a natural audience for this book, cause Our Hero (or Antihero), Sam, is one busted-up guy. he somehow effed up a bazillion-dollar engineering career, lost the exquisite wife and daughter (in the sense that they don’t talk to him any more), and lives in a tiny cottage inherited from his parentals, who were no models of inspired parenthood themselves. Sam throws on firewood, licks his wounds, and puts away enough vodka to keep it all properly anesthetized.

Sam also inherits his neighbor Regina, a cranky old soul who’s lived next door since he was a kid. and then she gets dead, and Sam ends up being the executor of her estate. which makes things happen not amenable to a solipsistic career of wound-licking and vodka.

this novel putters along really quite well through twisty turns and detection and all the things required of a mystery. the characters are reasonably well-drawn; even the women (excepting previously-mentioned wife and daughter). there’s some interesting authorial musing on life and what it’s good for, and so on. so i was happily following the bouncing ball until–urk, the last half hour (audiobook).

and then, it just derails.

after one guy is found dead, the local cop (who’s rather lamely letting Sam do all the investigating, for no apparent reason) for the third time tosses up his hands and tells Sam to hurry up with his investigating, cause the bodies are getting deep. like, eh? since when do even the laziest cops just turn over murder cases to local engineers?

at the half-hour-to-go mark, we’ve followed our Sam through detecting who the murderers are, or is, and come to find out the banker and another couple guys done it. one guy thoughtfully offed himself, so, one down. Sam confronts the banker who of course melts into blubber and admits all, although he says he never did any of the actual murders. he was just in on the real estate scam. and then, utterly inexplicably, Sam just lets him off. cuts a deal with him to return the ill-gotten etc and leaves him to go on his merry way, despite the dead women.

Sam is sitting in banker’s office at this point with a woman lawyer (who is probably the most interesting character in the book), and rather than objecting and saving, you know, her license to practice law and career, just tosses up her hands and says ok, thus abetting a couple murders for no good reason.

so Sam goes over to the third dude’s house and, with his ninja engineering skills, arranges for the baddie to blow his own head off.

and wow, i was pretty irked and wishing i could take away the author’s and the editor’s vodka, cause that’s the only thing that explains that crappy an ending to an otherwise decent book. it’s all just so far past the last exit to believable that there’s no way to salvage it.

persistent reader bonus: plus, i think somebody might have written a bit of revenge in this book–the author’s revenge against an ex. something a little extra-vituperative in those scenes…