Reed Arvin The Last Goodbye Reviewed by Terry D'Auray

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The Last Goodbye

Reed Arvin


US Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-06-055551-3

340 Pages; $23.95

Publication Date: February, 2004

Date Reviewed: May 15, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004




Say you're a decently good-looking guy in your early 30s, the "smartest little boy in Dotham, Alabama" who has matured with flair, moved to Atlanta and managed to put together a pretty sweet little life. You're a lawyer with a blue-chip Atlanta law firm, busting your butt earning big bucks, but spending more, on wine, women and worldly wonders. Then one day, the most gorgeous woman you've ever set eyes on walks into your office, and she starts to cry, pleading with you to help her boyfriend beat a criminal drug possession charge. Now your blue-chip law firm thinks all law should be "civil" (and expensive), so you seek and get permission from the Head Honcho Himself to represent the boyfriend pro bono, and you get him off. And despite all your deeply held, old-fashioned country-boy principles, you somehow end up in bed with the girlfriend. It's an ethical violation your law firm finds downright reprehensible, so they fire you. Two days later, the boyfriend you freed murders the girlfriend you bedded. And here you are - without a job, without the girl, without your principles, and feeling guilty as hell.

It's the classic"damsel in distress leads to disaster" plot that drives any number of mystery novels. In 'The Last Goodbye', Reed Arvin's second novel, it's just the set up - the fall from grace- and it's over in the first 6 pages. What's left to fill the remaining 300-plus pages is the pay-off - the redemption - a loopy story of the apparent suicide of a drug-addicted hacker, a beautiful, black opera diva with a dangerous secret, her showcase black husband and the impending big-money IPO of his pharmaceutical company.

Arvin's fallen attorney, Jack Hammond, narrates this suspense thriller populated with beautiful women touched by tragedy, unscrupulous, greedy corporate dealmakers, vicious ghetto druglords, noble doctors and high-tech computer hackers. Hammond is a disillusioned man, tortured by guilt, demoralized and cynical. But disillusionment is but a thin veneer for this most righteous, most romantic of narrators. Mouthing negativity, he leaps tall buildings for love and all but walks through flames to avenge wrongful deaths. All done to put his soul right.

Arvin's story twists through terrain that is alternately highbrow and rough-hewn. It travels from the cultured sophistication and polish of glittering opera halls to the violence and despair of the black urban ghetto where drugs and guns rule; from hermetically sealed high-tech pharmaceutical companies to the edifices of criminal justice - police stations, morgues and courts. It is peopled with well-drawn characters, each with a flawed and tragic past; a past each desperately tries to hide; a past for which each must atone. With greed and deceit, Arvin mixes beatings, blackmail and betrayal, and liberally tosses it all with soulful morality, romantic love and heroic goodness. A mighty handful indeed! Not only does he keep the page-turning pace of his set-up, he skillfully manages to keep it all - people and plot - within shouting distance of credibility.

Arvin's prose alternates between brisk, effective storytelling and poetic philosophical meditations on the nature of things - good and evil, love and death, right and wrong. Jack Hammond's wry realism and self-effacing charm keep the narrative grounded in drumbeats of contemporary Atlanta when it could easily have descended into the swelling violins and soft-focus of a Hollywood melodrama. Arvin creates an enjoyably fast-paced, feel-good suspense story where all the good guys are tarnished, but in the end, with adept plotting and a little of his polished prose, they all shine up quite nicely.