The Last Straw
by Ed Duncan

"In his line of work sometimes people had to die. He told himself that he never took out anybody who didn’t deserve it."

Contract killers seem like such affable chaps. Sure, there are the homicidal psychopaths that bring down the profession, but among them, if fiction is any indication, walk a community of upstanding, morally sturdy gentlemen who may commit murder for hire but who uphold ethical standards and airtight loyalties that make them handy guys to know in a pinch. Rico is this kind of guy. Sure, he kills for cash, but he has lines he won't cross. When asked to take out the teenage witness to a crime, the ride with Rico begins. He declines the job, his rival volunteers, and into the fray explodes an onslaught of alliances, vendettas, collateral damage, and no small amount of spilled blood. In the margins, race and gender hover thoughtfully, suggesting they matter yet not stealing the show away from Rico and the action.

Why is it so much fun to hang with crooks like Rico? As his prostitute girlfriend learns in the opening scenes when he avenges her from a violent john, characters like Rico live in their own separate universes where they define and mete justice. They defend those they love and accommodate the extremes their situations require. They can handle themselves in a physical showdown, they shoot to kill, and they walk away from fights victorious. Knowing that—and living vicariously through either Rico or the loved one Rico is protecting—is an entertaining fantasy. That temporary taste of aggressive amorality is heady stuff, and the body count is conveniently forgotten with the turn of each page. Like so many crime thrillers, Rico’s is a fun, fast pop through an imaginary world of tough guys, lamenting ladies, and a world-weary anti-hero. He may be a killer, but he's one of the good ones.

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