Monday, December 30, 2019

Aubrey Hamilton Reviews: The Last Act by Brad Parks

The Last Act by Brad Parks (Dutton, 2019) is a stand-alone thriller from the author of the Carter Ross investigative reporter series. Tommy Jump’s acting career is winding down after a promising start as a child actor. He has aged out of juvenile parts, is too young for character parts, and is too short for dramatic leads. His long-time agent has died and no one else is willing to take him on. His girlfriend on the other hand is a talented painter and has generated a great deal of interest in her work. She seems poised for a huge leap upward in the art world. Tommy is determined to give her enough financial stability to allow her to focus on her work, if he can just figure out how.

While he’s wrestling with this economic quandary, a friend from high school, whom he has not seen for years, approaches him with a request. The friend is with the FBI now and the FBI is looking for an actor to infiltrate a minimum-security prison in West Virginia to become friends with a new inmate, a former accountant to a Mexican drug cartel who holds evidence on money laundering that would effectively shut the cartel down. The FBI is offering $75,000 for Tommy to agree to enter the prison under a fake identity and the same amount again if Tommy learns where the evidence is hidden.

Despite his girlfriend’s and his mother’s reservations, Tommy sees this opportunity as a lifeline to financial security. He memorizes the details of the persona that the FBI has created for him, signs a confession to a bank robbery under the new name, and appears before a judge for sentencing. Before he knows it, he’s actually in prison. While it’s minimum security, it’s still a prison. The food is horrible, he is assigned to work in the prison laundry, and the prison social worker keeps trying to make him sign up for classes. His cellmate is so huge the standard cell bed had to be modified to fit him. He never speaks but Tommy is still terrified of him.

The characters are wonderful. An actor with a family as protagonist is a refreshing change from alcoholic police detectives, military veterans with PTSD, and loner private investigators. Tommy’s girlfriend and his mother are as fully developed as he is; all of them exude ordinariness and normalcy. There are still incredibly violent bits in the scenes with the cartel but Tommy could be the neighbor down the street.

One of the fun details in the book is the prison currency, which is foil packets of tuna, not the usual cigarettes or other contraband. Bribes and favors are paid in tuna. Tommy has to bribe his way into the poker game where the accountant plays every week, so he asks his FBI contacts to provide several cases of tuna. They are mystified but they do. The carefully developed plot has one twist after another. Even the last few pages hold surprises. An excellent read!

Starred review from Library Journal.

·                     Hardcover: 384 pages
·                     Publisher: Dutton (March 12, 2019)
·                     Language: English
·                     ISBN-10: 1524743534
·                     ISBN-13: 978-1524743536

Aubrey Hamilton ©2019

Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.

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