The Last Meridian begins with a great sentence: “The coroner’s wagon had a flat tire.” It was a good hook for this noir detective novel, the author’s first. Unfortunately, for me, it went downhill for a quarter of the book. However, I persevered and eventually became drawn into the story. In the end, it was an enjoyable read.
Hefferon has a good eye for the mid-60s in Los Angeles and Chicago. He sets the scenes in these two cities with just enough detail to let the reader feel the atmosphere and he writes with sparse prose but dialogue varying from snappy to rich, like an overstuffed éclair – reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and even Elmore Leonard. I grew up on old detective movies, and this one just moved me twenty years from the 40’s.
The story begins in Chicago with a murder, then jumps back seventeen years to the exodus of Lynn Killian, who wants to leave her Chicago life behind and embarks on a cross country trip to LA. There she reinvents herself as Nina Ferrer and becomes the interior designer to the rich and famous. The wall she erects around her new life is breached by a telegram from the mother of the boy Nina gave up for adoption sixteen years earlier. No one knows about the boy, not even Nina’s cigar-smuggling, philandering husband, Arturo. Her son is in trouble, and to maintain her façade, Nina hires an out-of-town, wise-cracking, private detective, CS, to find out the circumstances of her son’s arrest and murder charge. I can’t help it – the detective’s dialogue with Nina reminds me of Bogie and Bacall. The reader soon discovers Nina is telling the story of her life in the LA Country Lock-up, through interviews with a writer who is looking to find fame but who is ultimately sympathetic.
Nina’s life unravels further when she discovers a casual friend and customer, Audrey Canfield, shot in the head and lying on a divan in her Nina-decorated living room. Who killed Audrey? Her sleazy producer husband Mo? Or was it Arturo? How could Audrey’s death relate to the murder Nina’s son is charged with?
The author does a good job creating all these various threads and then tying them together, clearly influenced by his 25 years in law enforcement in Newark, New Jersey. The characters are gritty, as is the scenery, but are well drawn.
My difficulty getting into the book was the back and forth in time and place at the beginning. The content of these first chapters only falls into place later, and I ended up re-reading them before I went on. Once I figured out where everyone fit in, the plot carried me forward. There were times when the dialogue became somewhat long and unbelievable, but I enjoyed the forays into the minds of the characters.
I strongly recommend this book for readers who like this genre.
About the author
This is Joseph Hefferon’s first full-length novel, after a 25-year law enforcement career in the city of Newark, NJ. Many of the of the incidents in the book are based on real events from his former career. From the people he’s met and dealt with, he’s become fascinated by human motivation and doesn’t believe much happens by accident. Hefferon has written for several online publications, including over thirty profiles of high-achieving women from around the world for About.com. Curious about Texas noir, he set two of his short stories in the southeast corner of the state.
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