REVIEWED BY DAVID S. ATKINSON
Tyler’s Last by David Winner |Outpost 19 |October 1, 2015 | $16.00 | ISBN: 978-1937402785| 276 pgs.
Creative works and popular consciousness have an interactive relationship. Characters as popular as Tom Ripley, the jet-setting amoral con man and occasional thug from Patricia Highsmith’s crime novels, get stuck in our heads. However, they aren’t simply static in our collective consciousness, our minds poke at them, changing things. David Winner’s (author of The Cannibal of Guadalajara) book Tyler’s Last delves into that kind of relationship with both a character based on Ripley (Tyler) and Highsmith herself (Eve).
The book starts out similar enough to Highsmith’s crime novels. Tyler is living in a villa owned by his employer, recovering from the collapse of one of his employer’s vast schemes. However, Tyler’s body is failing. A lifetime of scams, quick punches, and escapes is catching up to him. Repeated harassing calls from a man he thought he killed in his youth after a drunken sexual encounter also catches up to him, a man claiming to know much of the crimes Tyler has committed since, setting Tyler off on one more dangerous mission around the globe.
And what he feared did not come to pass. It was not like the nasty girl removing the football just as the foolish boy was about to kick it in the American comic strip. Cal didn’t jump to his feet, or wave his hands in front of his face, pushing him off at the last minute. Instead, he grabbed Tyler’s head and welcomed Tyler’s tongue with his warm, sour lips.
Until Tyler suddenly found himself spinning awkwardly away from the divan.
He caught the angry glint in Cal’s eyes and saw that the man had shoved him away. And was slapping him fiercely across the face.
A “finnochio,” Cal was calling him, the Italian word for fag, “a fucking finnochio.”
Seeing only loathing on Cal’s snarling face, Tyler replayed the last several moments, then replayed them again. Then he felt his cheek, still stinging from Cal’s hand.
The negro fleet-week sailor with whom Tyler had spent a night the year before had given him a case of crippling regret. But Tyler hadn’t hit the man or pretended the thing hadn’t happened. And no one could slap Tyler like a girl no matter how drunk they got. They’d get punished like a man when the moment was right.
He did not stay to watch the blue flames spread through the cottage as he was no pyromaniac, and there seemed little chance that the unconscious man would get out alive.
Alternating chapters present Eve, the author of the books Tyler inhabits, whose life is also catching up to her. Dying from Parkinson’s, she is trying to write out Tyler’s last adventure as well as settle up with the Dutch lover who spurned her decades ago, whom she has been stalking ever since.
But this time, the old lady won’t just take it like a wallflower, weeping dismal tears while her Dutch cunt strolls out of the American-style bar. With Tyler as a model, she will find a way to force the girl’s hand. Pedro is already on board to help, and she can hire others. Immigrants come cheap, and she’s got plenty to spend. Eventually, she’ll allow Tab to get on with her life, but she can’t let her just slip away, not after all the turmoil she’s caused. Fair is fair.
As the book goes on, the worlds of Tyler and Eve blur into each other. Their journeys begin to take on strange similarities. Tyler becomes increasingly real to Eve, and perhaps even the other way around.
Only very occasionally is she sharp enough to grab her cahier and help Tyler withstand his knife wound in the Hotel de Ville bathroom. She worked out exactly what happened to Cal in the fire on Stromboli in the old days on Greenwich Street when she was living with that fiery Italian girl and being forcibly befriended by the young Elizabeth Smalls, but it’s hopelessly hidden among her papers in the basement. She remembers full well, on the other hand, that the man besieging poor Tyler in Spain hadn’t been in Thornton Hall, and that Cal himself had never returned to the place after escaping his drunken father in the middle of that stormy August night in ’58. She’d also worked out the identity of that cretin calling Tyler on his various phones before she’d even started work on Tyler’s Last, but the facts of the case float tantalizing just outside her recall like an itch she can’t quite scratch. It infuriates her but also keeps her going because it would be criminal for her to die before figuring it out.
Winner manages to evoke the feel and tempo of Highsmith’s renowned crime thrillers in Tyler’s Last. That would be enough for Highsmith fans still yearning for more since her death in 1995. The book goes further though, exploring the relationship between an author and her creation, and that creation and the mass culture in which he “lives.” Blending those together simultaneously couldn’t have been easy, but it makes Tyler’s Last an intriguing read.
David S. Atkinson is the author of Not Quite so Stories (forthcoming from Literary Wanderlust), The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes (2015 National Indie Excellence Awards finalist in humor), and Bones Buried in the Dirt (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, First Novel <80K). His writing appears in Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Atticus Review, and others. He spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.
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