I enjoy a good mystery, so I was excited to receive Littell’s novel for Christmas, my excitement faded when I delved in and discovered that, despite success writing stories about the CIA, A Nasty Piece of Work was rife with cliche. Let us start with our anti-hero, Lemuel Gunn (and apparently the second n is critical) former homicide detective, turned CIA agent, turned unthanked whistleblower, turned private investigator. To add to the complication he has an on again/off again relationship with his accountant (though why he needs an accountant is perhaps the biggest mystery of the book), an adopted daughter from Afghanistan, and a trailer whose septic tank needs a good draining. Yes, all that is in the book.
The tension in the book increases when he is hired by Ornella Neppi to track down a bail jumper whose life appears to be doctored by the FBI. As Gunn gets more deeply involved with both the investigation and Ornella Neppi, the reader realizes early this is not going to be one of those jolly happy ending books. Now, I do not require happy endings. In many cases, I find them unrealistic, but Littell tries far too hard to be cynical, as does Lemuel Gunn. The plot manages to be both obvious and contrived and the big surprise at the end wasn’t much of a surprise at all. Lemuel’s character is supposed to be a man in his late forties, but old fashioned. Lemuel is too old fashioned. I have a hard time believing that a man who was in Afghanistan a mere click ago doesn’t know how to use a cell phone. I also disliked how Littell pulls from one narrative into another as in when Gunn tells us about why he was kicked out of the CIA. Sure, interesting back story, but there was no attempt to weave it in seamlessly. It was as though Littell wanted so badly for us to understand Gunn’s motivations that he just threw it it. It did not work.
As a reader of noir books, and mystery, I found this particular book a very poor attempt. The saving grace is, I suppose, that it was a quick and untaxing read, the sort of thing that is perfect for a flight. Sadly, I find that I now have zero interest in reading his other books, which is a shame, because you never know, they could be good.