Fresh out of prison after a long stretch, what’s the first thing up on ex-con Hobe Hicklin’s ‘To Do’ list? Rob his hometown North Georgia Savings and Loan, of course. In and out in under 3 minutes with the cash, as robberies go this one goes pretty smoothly.
Well, except for killing the bank manager. Probably shouldn’t have taken the teller hostage either. Oh, and considering the job was planned with his fellow Aryan Brotherhood members while he was inside, Hicklin probably should have waited for them instead of jumping the score.
Now not only does Hicklin have local Sheriff Tommy Lang and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on his ass, he has some very seriously pissed off Brotherhood members gunning for him as well. On top of which, Hicklin’s got to juggle his tweaking junkie girlfriend, Hummingbird, and that skittish mama’s boy of a teller, Charlie Colquitt.
Come to think of it, maybe that score didn’t go so smoothly after all. And it’s a good thing for readers it didn’t, because author Peter Farris’s debut Last Call for the Living is an intensely engaging exploration of the aftermath of a robbery which initially seems to have gone right, only to be revealed as having gone gloriously wrong in virtually every way possible.
On the surface things unfold as a classic fugitive in hiding tale, with the twist of Hicklin being wanted by not just the law but his former “brothers” as well. And given what nasty pieces of work the two thugs the Brotherhood sends after Hicklin are, there’s a good argument to be made he’d be better off in the hands of the law. Except, of course, Hicklin has no plans of going back to prison. Ever. Which makes Hicklin an extremely motivated and dangerous man, one who flashbacks to his time in prison demonstrate is every bit the ruthless, coldblooded killer as the two on his trail.
What raises Last Call for the Living head and shoulders above your standard shoot ’em up, however, is the masterful attention to character development Farris has put into the story. For a man prone to extreme violence and hateful, racist language, Hicklin is actually so well developed – the prison flashbacks graphically explain why a man has no choice but to make alliances, even distasteful ones, inside to survive – that the reader finds himself actually caring about the character, even if you don’t exactly like him per se. This is especially true when it comes to Hicklin’s unusual attachment to his hostage, Charlie.
A nerdy, awkward, introverted young man, Charlie goes through life on autopilot with only his love of rockets dreams of getting a degree and working at NASA to keep him going. Initially overwhelmed by the situation – he pisses himself when the bank’s robbed and later faints dead away while at the hideout – Charlie slowly finds himself inexplicably drawn in by Hicklin, whose hardened and confident personality represent everything Charlie is not. It’s a relationship Farris nurtures and develops over the course of the story, leading Charlie, Hicklin, and the reader down a path which ultimately ends in both triumph and tragedy.
You see, despite all the fisticuffs and shootouts, and there is a spectacular one which takes place amongst the parishioners at a snake handling church, Last Call for the Living is at heart a character driven story, one which isn’t afraid to look at the dark side of human nature and explore evil as shades of gray and not an unyielding pitch-black. It’s a novel that recognizes sometimes a man actually wins by losing, least if it’s on his terms, and that even when one wins it can sometimes feel like a loss. Triumph and tragedy; they’re more closely linked than most people realize. Peter Farris certainly gets it, and if you read his amazingly nuanced Last Call for the Living you will too.
Last Call for the Living will be released by Forge Books on May 22nd (ISBN: 978-0765330079).
And be sure to read Peter’s guest post, “Robbing a Bank with Peter Farris.”