Bookworm: ‘Stay Awake’ couldn’t have been more aptly titled

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“The Deal Goes Down”

  • By Larry Beinhart
  • c. 2022, Melville House
  • $27.99, 288 pages

You didn’t want to do it. Ach, but you said you would, and there you go. You’ve tried for hours to think of how you’re going to get out of this thing, but you’ve come to the conclusion that you’re stuck. Planted in a corner. Glued to a “yes” and you’re going to have to do it. Even if, as in the new book “The Deal Goes Down” by Larry Beinhart, you’ve never done it before.

“The Deal Goes Down” by Larry Beinhart.

A couple more days, and Tony Cassella was going to lose his house.

He’d lived there on a mountain in upper New York for more than two decades but bank sell-outs and paperwork and this and that, and now he needed a little more than $7,000 to keep the place. Which is why he listened to the woman on the commuter train who told him she’d pay him to kill her husband.

She seemed to know Cassella. Seemed to know that he’d once been a private eye and had done some sketchy things. Truth was, though, that he’d never killed anybody for money before. He really didn’t like killing people, period.

But he’d said “yes,” and he’d negotiated with the woman’s colleague for bigger money plus expenses, which included the price of a helper who looked like a young teenager. And so, on a perfectly rainy night, Cassella set up a fact-finding evening that led to a wild ride on an icy road and an accident that killed the husband before Cassella could.

But nobody would believe that the man’s death wasn’t Cassella’s fault. Nobody, especially the women who backed him into a financial corner and a contract to eliminate other abusive husbands, starting with a powerful Russian billionaire who was holding his beautiful wife and toddler son hostage.

“The Deal Goes Down” author Larry Beinhart.

The elimination needed to happen while the family was on a skiing vacation in Austria, a place Cassella knew well. The wife and child were constantly surrounded by bodyguards, but that was a problem easily overcome. The oligarch was vile, but he was smart, too.

And, of course, accidents happen...

Was this novel written with a movie script in mind? Because author Larry Beinhart has been down that road before.

You won’t mind if it was.

“The Deal Goes Down” is very clever, with its hard-bitten, introverted and surprisingly nice ex-P.I. at the helm, surrounded by old Woodstock hippies and aging colleagues. Readers may be familiar with this kind of launching point in a good detective novel; what’s delightfully different about this one, though, is that it’s not full of blood, guts, and gratuitous death. Of course, you’ll find mayhem in here but the story’s intelligence supersedes it, as does the winking humor that astute fans and author-bio readers will spot, and love. (Yes, that’s a hint.)

Though it ends rather oddly – with a promise of a sequel? – this detective-slash-murder novel is a fun book to try. If you’ve been promising yourself that you’ll read one good novel before summer ends, “The Deal Goes Down” is how you do it.

Now granted: super-rabid reality-loving armchair detectives may note a few gaping holes in the story here, things that poke holes in authenticity but that will settle nicely if you let them. So let them, and you’ll learn that “Stay Awake” couldn’t have been more aptly titled.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.