Posted: 29 Mar 2016 02:00 PM PDT
Backshot: 2012is the second of two related novellas. 2012was written by Tom Piccirilli and Backshot:1902 was written by Ed Gorman. The connection between the two is Marshal Delmar Royce who is a minor, but key, player in the latter parts of 1902 and the great3-grandfather of 2012’s antihero, Royce.
Royce is a professional thief lying in a hospital bed with a broken back and useless legs. His lifelong friend and partner, Quill, punched a bullet in his back after their last job and now Royce is looking at a painful future and a five-year prison stretch. The doctor tells him he won’t walk for a year, but Royce is on his feet in six months; it’s another three years before his release from prison and his planned revenge against Quill.
2012is a touch Richard Stark, but wholly Tom Piccirilli. The plotline is Stark—Royce is betrayed by his partner and spends the rest of the story getting even—but it is stylistically and thematically Piccirilli. Mr. Piccirilli’s literate, smooth, stark style is, perhaps, the finest in modern crime fiction—
“DeKooning sighed. It was the sigh that said you couldn’t believe people were so clichéd, so obvious, so average. You heard the story a thousand times before and here it was again, and you just couldn’t believe you were going to have to sit through it one more time. DeKooning frowned. It said more about him than anything before.”
It is thematically complex with a heaviness of the past’s influence on the present. Royce is haunted by the image of a man he will never meet, Delmar Royce, and Quill is tormented by the shadow of his abusive father. The story never strays into predictability, and Royce is, if not exactly likable, understandable and even familiar.
Tom Piccirilli died in July 2015 from brain cancer. He was a talented writer who started his career in horror and then migrated to crime. He won multiple Bram Stoker awards for his horror fiction, including best novel for The Night Class, and he won the Thriller Award for best paperback original for his crime novels The Midnight Road and The Coldest Mile. Backshot: 2012 was published posthumously, and as I read it, I wondered if it is the last of Mr. Piccirilli’s original work.