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by Scott Phillips
Ballantine Books, November, 2000 (HC) $19.95
Now Available in Trade Paperback from Ballantine Books, October 2001, $12.00
Reviewed by cherie jung
Wichita, Kansas. Christmas Eve, 1979. Charlie Arglist is a lawyer. By most people’s standards, he is a sleazy lawyer. He is fully aware of his shortcomings. He is a failure as a husband. He is a failure as a father. And he’s not all that great at his job either. But he does have friends in low places. Charlie knows his way around the bars, strip joints, and massage parlors of Wichita.
As the events unfold in THE ICE HARVEST, we journey with Charlie through the long, lonely hours of Christmas Eve, from bar to bar, and from strip joint to massage parlor. Charlie is making his rounds and saying goodbye to his friends and family without actually saying goodbye. He has implemented a scheme that will either make him a rich man by the morning or a dead man.
Phillips brings to life a group of characters that most people would find distasteful if they met up with them in real life - a surly bartender, bored strippers, intoxicated patrons, angry kids. Not your first choice for companionship on Christmas Eve, you say? No doubt. Not by choice. Yet as the reader tags along with Charlie, Phillips writes each character in such a way that the reader is able to begin to care about these people and their broken lives. And for those readers who are not strangers to this culture, you will swear you know these characters, that you’ve tossed back a beer and watched their antics from a safe distance in a dimly lit bar, not too long ago.
THE ICE HARVEST is being promoted as a crime, noir novel. Yes, it is that. But it is also more than that. It is a compassionate look at a group of dysfunctional people, trying to make their lives count for something, against long odds. Phillips writes with a compassion for his characters that is refreshing. He also spins a darkly humorous tale of crime, greed, corruption, and drunkenness, among other vices.
It is a crime story but not just for crime aficionados. It is a story anyone can enjoy.
This book is one of five novels that have been nominated for the prestigious Hammett award by the International Crime Writers Association, North American Branch for the year 2000.
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