The reading world is catching up with William Lashner, and it’s high time. Lashner is perhaps best known for his gritty courtroom series featuring Philadelphia attorney Victor Carl, but his numerous stand-alone works, including the newly published A FILTHY BUSINESS, are like Edward Hopper paintings come to print. The plots of each and all are darkly layered, full of fire and black humor, and peppered through with enough nasty, unforgettable characters (the type you keep at the far outer rim of your acquaintances, if you can’t eliminate them from your orbit entirely) to populate several books. Lashner’s latest is no exception.
A FILTHY BUSINESS is narrated primarily through the scarred and world-weary voice of Phil Kubiak, as he sits at a table in a no-name bar on the posterior end of nowhere and tells his story to a female journalist who has come to hear what he has to say, ostensibly for a magazine article and perhaps for something more. The Phil Kubiak who presents himself is not the good-looking, physically capable specimen that she expects. The appearance anticipated is of clean, clear-cut features and a vigorous, capable swagger. The man she meets drags one leg, all but useless, behind him as he approaches with one eye patched, a sort of Long John Silver minus the pegleg and the parrot.
"A FILTHY BUSINESS may be Lashner’s best work to date. I would have read it faster than I ultimately did; there were, however, passages dropped like gold coins throughout the narrative that I could not help but linger over again and again."
Phil has come through some hard times, and he tells all throughout the book --- beginning with his stint as a gold salesman in a boiler room operation stuck in a small strip center office in Carson City to his dream job, if you will, as a fixer with what is known as the Hyena Squad, a high-priced clean-up and wish-granting service for the very rich who aren’t concerned with such minor limitations as legalities. Phil has to win a very long and unusual competition for a seat at the table, and he does so, all the while watched by the lovely and enigmatic Cassandra and the not-so-lovely and even more mysterious “Mr. Maambong,” who is the man behind the desk (if not behind the curtain) of the enterprise.
Phil recounts his experiences working for the Hyena Squad as the nominal head of the Last Chance Crew. They perform seemingly impossible tasks with remarkable aplomb, even as Phil insists on one condition that, ironically, makes him a less-than-perfect employee. Phil’s narrative line occasionally interrupts itself as he describes his own childhood and his mother, who is imprisoned and as a practical matter is beyond redemption. He apparently is in a similar state; his scars are not limited to his exterior. His stories may be episodic, but his narrative is full of surprises, some of which the reader will anticipate while many will not be. Lashner is still heaving verbal concussion grenades into that scuzzy, unnamed bar as he presents the last few paragraphs of Phil’s story.
A FILTHY BUSINESS may be Lashner’s best work to date. I would have read it faster than I ultimately did; there were, however, passages dropped like gold coins throughout the narrative that I could not help but linger over again and again. Some were hilarious, others were poignant. One that I recall near the beginning of the book concerned the momentary stops along Phil’s downward spiral as he marked his descent from one occupation to another --- lawyer, gold salesman, fixer, thief ---and displayed, far too late, a gray cloud of wistful insight. It’s the type of passage that you should eventually come across as an epigraph in someone else’s novel (with proper credit, of course). It depressed me for days, for reasons unimportant here, but ultimately in the best of ways.
However, the book’s best element is that one is unable to anticipate what will happen from moment to moment. The reader has no idea what is going to occur next, other than that it is going to be bad. Or worse. The story is revealed in the same manner in which those Russian nesting dolls manifest themselves, if you can imagine that each doll contains, in addition to a smaller doll, a progressively larger spider. I hate spiders, but I recommend you read A FILTHY BUSINESS.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 5, 2017
A Filthy Business
by William Lashner
- Publication Date: May 2, 2017
- Genres:Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
- ISBN-10: 1477817859
- ISBN-13: 9781477817858
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