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Dry County s/c

Dry County s/c back

Rich Tommaso

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Page 45 Review by Stephen

"I could hear the yells and curses coming from the roof, but couldn't stop myself hurling into the hydrangea."

Hilarious! It wouldn't have been half so funny had it not been a hydrangea.

Set in the Sunshine State's boat-floating playground that glows neon at night, this is the most colourful noir that you'll ever know. By day - as Lou Rossi cycles home from the Miami Herald where he works part-time as a comic strip artist - the city bridge gleams a lemon yellow while the bright white clouds blow below a fresh blue sky and leafy green trees stand out against pale pink hotels.

There is so much light and so much space, with lines as clean as the waterfronts themselves.

And yes, by night, there will be that oh-so familiar neon on the balconied apartment buildings in contrasting pink and mint green.

But what possible crimes could a comic artist bear witness to? Apart from blaring House Music, I mean?

Ah, well, it's all in embracing 'Everyman Crime Series' to which DRY COUNTY belongs: quotidian crimes you stumble upon occasionally in conversation with someone you may have just met, like abusive boyfriends, perchance. Although there is the possibility that a potential drive-by alluded to briefly by Lou's raucous mate Robert might tie in somewhere. And where might you meet someone new...? In an apartment block's communal laundry room!

It's there, after despairing at the lack of potential pulls at a nightclub which he cannot abide ("seething pit of vipers"), that Lou Rossi finds Janet reading alone while waiting for her spin cycle to end. Alas, she is not a new tenant. She's only staying over at a friend's flat for the night... or for the weekend... "I'm not sure yet", but she does at least work in town, gives him her business card and proffers the possibility of having lunch one afternoon.

From there it only gets better: her employers turn out to be brothers, the rental firm like a family, and at lunch they make plans for dinner later that very same week. Finally, after six solitary months in Miami, things are looking up for Lou, and there's more fresh air and open skies and passenger planes flying overhead as he strolls home, a spring in his step, allowing himself to feel jaunty.

Oh dear.

I'm going to stop there while noting only that what I loved most about what is revealed is that so often we escape from one thing by a route which only turns out to be the very same thing. Is that vague enough for you? That's what Tommaso's come up with, giving the blow so much more of a punch.

Whereas most noir slinks about in an environment alien to most of us, in circumstances most of us would never encounter, Tommaso sticks to his promise of filling Rossi's account with the familiar routines of walks round town, showers, settling down to basic meal from whatever we find in our fridge, perhaps a few beers and so TV. Then there's the not wanting to look like you're trying too hard by dressing to impress and making that first phone call too early.

"Man, I couldn't wait... But then later, once I got home, I decided I should wait, possibly a week...
"This was based on advice that my old friends in high school gave me: "Don't ever call a girl up right away, you gotta wait like, a week or so, or else she'll think you're a desperate loser!" ...So, I decided to wait at least a week..."

Beat.

"Two days later, I called..."

Brilliant!

What makes the pages even more visually brilliant is that the first-person narration is hand-written on blue-lined, yellow legal pad paper like a story you might stumble upon rather than one being told directly to you. It's not that big a drama. He's not a professional P.I. typing up his notes to keep on file, either.

As to the title, nowhere I know of in Florida is a Dry County - certainly not Miami, and Lou doesn't half neck beers throughout, hence the well deserved fate of those hideous hydrangeas - nor is El Paso, whence Janet hails and where all her troubles first began. My off-the-cuff guess, therefore, is it's somewhere we're headed or a direction from which trouble's coming.

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