Loehfelm’s noirish suspense novel revolves around a memorable trio of characters. Maureen Coughlin is tough, canny, and proud. She’s in a dead-end waitressing job, struggling mightily to make ends meet. She’s a little hard to like and makes some poor choices, but Loehfelm gets the reader well inside her head, so even her worst behavior is believable, and, at least from her character’s perspective, understandable. One night she sees state senatorial candidate Frank Sebastian in a compromising situation, and her life starts to come off its rails. Sebastian is as repulsive character as I’ve encountered in fiction recently: a sadistic, brutish misogynist. Before I moved to Massachusetts I never would have believed such a man could hope to stand for office, and some of what Sebastian gets up to strains my credibility even so. But he’s vividly drawn for sure. Detective Nat Waters is perhaps the most standard figure of the central trio: the bitter, aging cop with a complex, tarnished history. But he gets a bit more character depth than many such figures, and it’s interesting to see him from Coughlin’s perspective rather than as the primary viewpoint character.
I didn’t think it was perfect. Coughlin is very ambivalent about whether and how far she can trust Waters; her flip-flopping wears a little thin. Loehfelm telegraphs a few of the thematic and plot points a little too far in advance, robbing the impact of a few twists. And near the end it goes kinda over-the-top and verges on the cartoonish. But it was plenty suspenseful nonetheless; up to the last few pages I wasn’t sure if Loehfelm was the sort of writer who lets his sympathetic characters out of the novel more-or-less intact, or the type who eradicates their world in an all-out bloodbath.
needs more demons? The characters all have demons aplenty, but a shade more subtlety might bring them into sharper relief.