The Last Refuge Paperback – Jun 13 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Sam Acquillo, the hero of Knopf's arresting debut (a Book Sense notable selection for May), is the very epitome of the dropout. An ex-corporation man, divorced from his wife and estranged from his daughter, he lives in his parents' run-down cottage in Southampton, Long Island, and seems content to drink himself into oblivion. Then one day he finds the black and swollen body of his elderly neighbor, Regina Broadhurst, who has apparently drowned in her bathtub. Is it an accident or murder? And if it's the latter, will solving the mystery behind Regina's death enable Sam to pick up the pieces of his life and move on? While the promotional copy's likening the book to Camus's The Plague may be a stretch, there's a definite whiff of Elmore Leonard here, particularly in the snappy dialogue and the colorful, oddball characters, including a gay billionaire. Knopf's effortless narrative style and sense of humor bode well for the further adventures of Sam Acquillo. (May 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* You might say that Sam Acquillo lives life passively: he sits for hours at a time staring out at the bay at his late parents' dilapidated house in Southampton, endlessly sipping vodka and reading the classics; he does odd jobs for his elderly neighbor, Regina; and he occasionally takes walks to the local watering hole to "socialize." But when he finds the body of Regina facedown in her tub, his senses awaken--and not just because of the stench that led him to break into her house. So an old lady is dead? That's the attitude the local cops take, and when Sam volunteers to become the executor of the estate (more out of curiosity and boredom than anything else), the police department is happy to let him do it. In his quest to find next-of-kin and help fulfill his duties as executor, Sam uncovers suspicious facts, people, and circumstances that lead him to think Regina's death was not a case of just another octogenarian meeting her maker naturally. Though the mystery drives the plot, it's Sam's rediscovery of himself in middle age that is the real focus in this accomplished debut novel, which also boasts outstanding dialogue and a vividly rendered setting. Expect to hear more from Knopf; he is definitely a writer to watch. Mary Frances Wilkens
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Sam Acquillo, a burned-out corporate v.p. and engineer, has dumped his job and his wife and retired to drink and brood in the small cottage his father built in the 1940s in a working class enclave along the Little Peconic Bay. It's 2000, and "a neighborhood like this, in a place like this, is a little like a guy in a cheap suit accidentally invited to a gallery opening."
Sam sits on his porch staring out at the bay, drinking vodka, smoking filtered Camels and talking to his dog. But when he discovers the body of his neighbor, a mean old lady universally disliked, something stirs. Maybe it's the engineer in him noticing things that don't quite fit. He volunteers to administer her meager estate, a job no one else wants, and soon makes himself enough of a nuisance to land in the hospital, concussed.
An amateur boxer who keeps himself in shape and is not averse to physical contact (taking after his father who was beaten to death in a barroom brawl), Sam gives the police no help in finding his attacker and keeps on probing. Along the way he meets several smart and interesting women who seem to find him as attractive as he finds them, keeping possibilities in play, and has a few more brushes with violence, not all of them defensive.
Knopf paces this stylish debut well, revealing his narrator's complex character as he unravels the tangle of his mystery, imbuing all with a strong sense of place. Sam, though likable from the start, grows on the reader as he doggedly pursues a mystery with nothing in it for him but the satisfaction of a job well done. Though damaged and stubborn, he's a man of integrity and cautious feeling.
A part-time resident himself, Knopf also captures the feel of the Hamptons - greed drawn by natural beauty through no fault of its own, beleaguered locals edged out by rich summer people - and transports the reader to its village streets, sprawling mansions, neighborhood watering holes and spectacular vistas.
With its snappy (though occasionally overlong) dialogue, intelligent humor and strong protagonist, readers will be glad there's at least one more Acquillo novel in the works.
- The Portsmouth Herald
The mystery itself has a good, if complex, underpinning, with history and motive I assume are not entirely alien to the real world Hamptons. The engineering know-how that winds through the book provokes some interesting thoughts about attempting the perfect crime. And what hero-lead mystery would be complete without the potential for dashing the plutonic relationships?
The Last Refuge accelerates at a good pace as Sam scrambles to settle the debts before returning (one hopes) to his foggy, languid state. I may never order another vodka with anything but ice.
Great stuff! How long till the next Acquillo story?
Then the camera rolls again, the action resumes, and we pick up where we left off, with two benefits: a greater understanding and appreciation for what is about to occur, and a little shot of tension-building as a result of the interruption, like a second shot of espresso in the mix. I love that. This is a novel that uses the murder-and-mayhem form to examine the human condition, deeply and with conviction. Sam Acquillo is a guy fighting through never-ending pain, with no earthly idea why. A capable warrior without a lord, like the old Ronin samurai after the emperor was gone, wandering the countryside, looking for something to do and a reason to do it.
Buy this book, get down with Sam Acquillo, and join the rest of us in looking forward to his next challenge. Believe me, you want to root for this guy and his dog and his '67 Grand Prix.