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Onyx reviews: The Last Whisper in the Dark by Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli follows up his excellent noir novel The Last Kind Words with another welcome visit with the larcenous Rand family, where everyone is named after a breed of dog. The previous book dealt with Collie, who was on death row for murdering several people. Terrier (Terry) returned home to Long Island for the first time in five years to fulfill one of his brother's last requests and gradually re-integrated himself with his family and the family business. 

Terry's world is built on secrets. His father is trying to hide the symptoms of another family legacy while his young sister Dale is making money as the anonymous host of a guerilla viral video series that brings her into contact with dodgy characters. His uncle Grey is supposedly away from home on a long con, but readers of the previous book will know the truth about his fate.

Whereas The Last Kind Words explored the dysfunctions of the Rand side of the family, including Terry's father, his two uncles and a demented grandfather, The Last Whisper in the Dark introduces Terry to his mother's family. She has been estranged from them for over thirty years, since she married Terry's father. Terry knows nothing about them—not their ethnicity, not even his mother's maiden name. 

A cousin Terry didn't know he had, John Crowe, shows up at their door to tell Terry's mother that her father had a stroke and wants to see her before he dies. Terry goes with her and is amazed to learn that he knows the family by reputation. His grandfather and uncle, Will, are successful television and movie producers who live in the sort of mansion that burglars like the Rands would see as a challenge, though a manageable one.

After his mother spends some time with her father, Terry is summoned to the dying man's room. Perry Crowe wants him to rob one of their subsidiary studios of all of its assets: cash, contracts and master tapes. Will and Perry haven't had many successes lately, but All Hallow's Eve Films, which produces low-budget horror movies, is making money. However, the affiliate partner has been overstepping his bounds and Perry wants what's rightfully theirs without going through proper channels.

Terry routinely breaks into places, but it's rarely to steal. Most of the time he's obsessing over his ex-fiancé, Kimmy, who is now married to his friend, Chub, with whom she has a daughter. Terry left Kimmy shortly after she miscarried their own daughter, but he has vague hopes of reconciliation. When he finds out that Chub, a mechanic who has a sideline selling getaway cars to crooks, is mixed up with a dangerous gang, Terry is conflicted. He doesn't want to see Chub get into trouble, mostly because he's afraid Kimmy might get hurt, but he also realizes that if Chub is taken out of the equation he might get Kimmy back.

Terry doesn't do a good job of making quiet inquiries, though, bringing himself to the attention of a number of bad characters, some of whom beat him severely. He also runs across a cash-strapped and adventurous divorcée who is turned on by Terry's dangerous side and a hired assassin whose weapon of choice is a needle, though no one seems to know exactly how he uses it.

Piccirilli's novels are noir to the bone. Dialog is terse and crisp, as are the author's observations. The morning after Terry sleeps with the divorcée, he comments on the superficial nature of the encounter by saying, "When my Alzheimer's hit, this interlude would be one of the first memories to go." He observes his maternal grandmother, a bitter woman who can't forgive herself for breaking contact with her daughter, as she sets the table, "killing each minute like she was smothering it in its crib."

Terry saves his harshest criticisms for himself. He's basically a good guy with good intentions, but he constantly criticizes himself, with good reason. When he gets involved in someone else's affairs, the end results aren't always what he hoped. Even his attempts to use his newfound connections with the Crowes to help his sister's burgeoning acting career don't work out as planned.

Terry keeps a numbered list throughout this book, a list of the imagined expressions on the faces of other people if they were to find out something about him or something he knows. These expressions would mostly be different forms of disappointment. The world view of these novels isn't rosy, but the characters act out of love and protection of family, even if some of their victories are Pyrrhic.  Piccirilli is clearly fond of the Rands and his devotion to them is as infectious and engaging as their devotion to each other.

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