After 40 years and 3 children, the 72-year old Stanley Peke and his wife Rose are moving out of the big house on Westchester and headed out to California to be closer to the family. The moving people load up their previously packed things and drive away. All is well. Unfortunately the next day the real moving company shows up and Peke realizes he’s been scammed.
by Jonathan Stone
2014 / 284 pages
read by Christopher Lane 9h 24m
rating: A+ / literary thriller
(both read and listened)
Peke is not a poor man and what he owns is valuable, antique furniture and artwork worthy of museum collections. And it held many memories as well, for his wife as well as himself and their children. But Pete has other memories – memories of life on another continent and memories of escape and immigrant status in the US. So Peke wants more than the insurance money – he wants to find the crooks.
Meanwhile, a white truck is driving out of town, onto the highways and straight for Harrisburg where the truck is painted and set up for a haul to Montana. The driver, Nick, is a bit different from your average con-artist. He was raised under similar circumstances, but he’s smart – really smart – scary smarty. He calls himself a street-tough fag and has piles of antique catalogues and subscriptions so he knows what he gets when his highly complex but low tech jobs work out right.
But Peke is also quite smart and has ideas of his own, not necessarily so low tech and the hunt/chase is on.
There’s more to this story than the plot – woven into the narrative there are themes of what it means to be free (when you have not been), to own something (when you’ve had nothing), to have a past (which you try to forget). What it means to be a survivor and to keep secrets. Are material possessions only about material possessions? The meaning of America to immigrants? How much is a life worth? Fate? There seem to be too many themes hit on a bit too hard, but still, in the end, it works somehow in large part because the themes get woven together.
From page 25:
“The uniformed men. The empty house. It has happened to him before. As bizarre, as unpredictable, as unaccountable as what has just occurred is, it has happened before. On another continent. In another life. He has tried to cut off the association, tried to bury it in the thick dirt and deep distance of the past. But it rises, powerful and insuppressible. An event poised fragilely between memory and actuality. Between the mind’s eye and the witness’s uncomprehending gaze.
The uniformed men. The empty house. It has happened to him before.”
Later on the story takes some odd twists, feels too complex and gets a bit gory, but it really comes perfectly together at the end.
Stone definitely knows how to build the suspense through intense character development and nicely subtle foreshadowing of action. I am really glad I both read and listened to this one as there is a surprising depth to it I might have totally missed in the Audio alone. And yet Audio is my favorite way to read crime novels.
There are some nicely written descriptions of the great west and what tries to pass for Americana these days. Also moments of quiet tenderness as well as moments of great dry humor. The internal workings of the minds of Holocaust survivors is interesting but sometimes it get a bit too much, prolonging action. As I said earlier, at times it feels too complex and then it gets a bit gory, but it really comes perfectly together at the end. I’ll be reading more by Stone.