Characters, and issues of character, abound in the latest offering from author Lynn Kostoff, Late Rain. The sleepy, second tier resort town of Magnolia Beach, South Carolina wouldn’t seem to be the ideal setting for a drama of Shakespearean proportions, yet that is precisely what Kostoff delivers.
Corrine Tedros, unhappy with her husband’s lack of a sense of urgency in persuading his uncle, Stanley, to sell his highly profitable soft drink empire, decides to speed the process along…by hiring a hitman to take Stanley out of the picture.
Unfortunately for her, things don’t go quite as planned. First, the hitman strays from the carefully arranged script, leaving Corrine with a shaky alibi during the time of the killing. Second, Jack Carson, an elderly man suffering from Alzheimer’s, happens to witness the murder. Third, Officer Ben Decovic, a displaced Ohio homicide detective with something to prove, latches on to the case.
With that setup, Late Rain sounds like a straightforward crime story, right? Not so fast.
From the outset it quickly becomes apparent that the cast of Late Rain is a highly complicated bunch, each driven by their unique demons and desires. As the story is told in turns from several different characters’ perspectives, the reader is presented with an ever changing picture of the events as they unfold, never quite sure if what’s being relayed is the truth or a distorted version of it as seen through the prism of the characters’ personal motives.
Corrine, of course, is motivated by her desire to gain control of the company and, later, to get free from the very tangled web she’s helped weave. She also has a mysterious past, which is catching up with her at precisely the wrong time. Ben is trying to get his confidence as an investigator back after a killer’s random murder spree took the lives of five people, including his wife. In the wake of the tragedy Ben found that he had “lost his eye” for ferreting out criminals. He no longer trusted his instincts, so he resigned his position as a homicide detective in Ohio and moved to Magnolia Beach. His casual encounter with Corrine during the early stages of the investigation reignites those instincts; he just knows something’s not right with Corrine, and he’s determined to prove it.
And then we have Jack Carson and the hitman, Croy, both also unreliable narrators though for very different reasons. The snippets presented from Jack’s point of view, through the haze of his creeping Alzheimer’s, are painfully raw in capturing the essence of what it must be like to be caught in the throes of such a cruel disease. Can we really trust what Jack thinks he saw? Kostoff’s description of Jack’s feelings as he tries desperately to retain control of his increasingly traitorous mind is one of the most vivid analogies I’ve ever read:
It was like standing behind the wheel of a boat, far out at sea and waiting, against the immensity of the horizon, for the anchor you’d dropped to catch, but knowing through your fingertips on the wheel that it hadn’t, that in the depths below the hull, the anchor drifted and dragged, unable to find purchase.
To that end, Late Rain is a book that definitely seems to engender strong feelings in those who read it, a fact amply demonstrated in the Do Some Damage discussion of the book on GoodReads. It’s well worth checking the discussion out – and feel free to join the group – but do be aware there are some spoilers in a few of the threads. Also worth checking out is a tremendously enjoyable podcast with Lynn Kostoff conducted by Do Some Damage’s Steve Weddle. Late Rain is covered, of course, but so are Kostoff’s other works and his thoughts on writing and the state of publishing in general.
You really need to treat yourself to this book. It’s one of the most impressive things I’ve ever read – yes, ever – and I can’t for the life of me figure out why Lynn Kostoff isn’t a household name. The way he weaves several fascinating subplots in the book together is nothing short of sublime, and his incredibly skilled, nuanced character development lifts Late Rain beyond being “just” crime fiction and into the realm of genuine Southern Gothic literature. I sure hope the students at Francis Marion University appreciate that they have a master of the craft teaching them.
Late Rain is available from Tyrus Books. (ISBN: 978-1935562122).