Novella: The Last Deep Breath by Tom Piccirilli, 2011 (for ebook version), downloaded ebook from Wisconsin Digital Library.
More greatness from the late Piccirilli. Spare writing, sharp characters, and gaps to for the reader to figure out.
Remember back when Piccirilli announced he had brain cancer? He went through treatments and things were looking rough? Then he was admitted to a experimental treatment program and got better? And then the cancer came back? And then Piccirilli died? That was a kick in the guts. Piccirilli was a good dude and wrote some great stuff.
This is more of a novella and continues with some themes and features Piccirilli regularly wrote about: Lonely men, violent family members, muscle cars, lots of driving, protagonist stuck in a crook's life but kinda happy there.
Grey is a orphan, former foster kid, and Army Vet with a dishonorable discharge. He is on the hunt for a former foster sister who he and a foster brother went on the run with after the foster brother killed the rapist foster father. I typed foster five times. Six.
Grey and the sister and brother did not spend too much time together but Grey has a very strong attachment to them. He followed Foster Brother into the Army and Foster Brother has gotten Grey out of a couple binds. Grey has been living in NYC after getting kicked out of the Army and Foster Sister shows up at his apartment with a bad knife wound. Grey has not seen her in years but that does not matter. Grey calls a former Army Medic pal and gets Sister treated that evening. When Grey awakens the next morning Sister is gone. The only information for Grey to work with is that Sister mentioned a guy's name and the Medic tells Grey that he recognizes Sister from porn.
Grey wants to find the injured sister. Grey gets on the phone with Foster Brother and the ever-capable Brother tells him, "Wait. I will be back in two months." But, Grey cannot wait. Grey has a brotherly love for Sister that barely hides his sexual love for sister. After some digging in NYC Grey decides to head to Los Angeles and track down Sister's porn past.
Things happen and Grey gets tangled up in his memories and desires. Grey slowly makes his way westward. He meets women. He beds women. Many of those women ask Grey to kill the woman's significant other. Grey wonders, "What kind of weird ass killer vibe do I put out?" In Reno, Grey meets a mostly washed up film actress and the movie loving Grey pairs up with her and heads to Hollywood.
Things happen and Grey uses a little too much force out west but finds out more about Sister and her drug use and her former boyfriend. He works as a manager of sorts for Actress and gets her on track for a decent film job. He's then heading out for the East coast on the track of Sister.
The novel is like a lot of Piccirilli stuff: protagonist with lousy family. A hard worker who feels less-than around violent, hyper-masculine relatives. Split between straight life and crook life. Lots of muscle cars. Lost love from teen years and still pining for the adult version of that teen girl.
Like most Piccirilli stories there resolution is not a feel good. Grey finds his MacGuffin (Foster Sister) but does not come to terms with his own problems.