Picks and Pans Review: Past Due

UPDATED 05/10/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/10/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

by William Lashner

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The past doesn't just weigh heavily on Lashner's roster of disillusioned souls; it threatens to drag them under. When small-time hoodlum Joey "Cheaps" turns up dead after confessing his part in a 20-year-old killing, bottom-feeding lawyer Victor Carl tries to find Joey's murderer—and a suitcase of money that disappeared with him'. He steps into a morass of lies and buried crimes involving drugs, adultery and nude photos. Victor, whose business usually runs to seizing cars from debtors, has his hands full with a Supreme Court justice, the jurist's loopy, seductive wife and a group of ex-pushers, plus his own dying father. Lashner balances his hero's pessimism ("Our certainties are all false, our dreams are all lies, our loves will always betray us") with sardonic humor and even ripe melodrama, notably a climax with crossed sabers. But he also conveys the desperate sadness of self-delusion.

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