We might have known it was coming, as the big generation of writers and readers faced versions of the future: What crimes are taking place in nursing homes? And who's going to solve them -- the oldtimers in the adjacent rooms? The nursing aides and volunteers in pastel smocks? The tough-as-nails director?
S. W. Lauden, a Los Angeles writer and drummer with a lot of short fiction published plus his Greg Salem series (starts with Bad Citizen Corporation), isn't nursing home age yet. For that matter, neither is Tommy Ruzzo, the hard-drinking and bitter ex-cop from NYPD, now working a security gig in Florida at Precious Acres Retirement Community. But with a major mistake in his past -- having to do with an evidence locker -- he's blackballed from his official profession and muddling along among the crises of gray-haired gamblers and crossword puzzle fanatics. And oh yes, getting involved with at least one woman he knows he should have stayed away from.
The thing is, a lot of the oldtimers at Precious Acres are former New Yorkers themselves. And when they start being killed, with taunting clues for Ruzzo arriving on crossword puzzles in the local newspaper, he suspects a Mob connection from the Big Apple has followed the gents south. Has nursing home work made Tommy Ruzzo too soft to dig into the case, though?
The empty bottle rolled from Ruzzo's hand and banged against the hardwood floor. He sprang up in a daze, groping wildly in the bed for his gun.Lauden makes it clear that Ruzzo is about as corrupt and prone to violent shortcuts as the murderer(s) he's chasing. But even Tommy Ruzzo can get surprised by what surfaces in the Florida retirement grift!
He went over to the pantry and twisted the lid on his last bottle. The warm bourbon felt like it was tearing him apart as he crept over to the window. He pushed the mini blinds aside with the barrel of his revolver and looked out across the pre-dawn stillness. A golf cart came into view, the driver tossing newspapers onto porches as he crawled along. Ruzzo waited for the silence to return before he slipped downstairs to steal a Sentinel from one of his neighbors.
CROSSWISE is a fun read and a quick one (130 pages) -- a great tip of the hat to the noir genre. Shelve it with Westlake, Robert Parker, and your vintage paperbacks with their slinky women brandishing firearms. Or with Carl Hiassen and Kinky Friedman, for the good-humoredly ridiculous capers. Good stuff!