Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Literally the Best Reviews: Suitcase City

Suitcase City - Sterling Watson
Akashic Books
320 Pages

Occasionally when walking the stacks at the Lockport Public Library, I will randomly pull a book from a shelf and take it home with me. Sometimes you need to step out of your comfort zone and take a chance with books you might not otherwise find. Suitcase City by Sterling Watson was just such a book. In this case, it was sitting in a featured location at the end of the stack where the librarians put books they think people might like. And they were right.

In full disclosure, I had already read Watson’s newest release, The Committee, just a short time before. I initially did not make the connection between the two books until after I started Suitcase City. I truly enjoyed the newer book, but this slightly older book totally pulled me in. It is an adventure from beginning to end.

Imagine being a young man trying to make his mark while at the same time earn some quick, easy cash to live life. It’s 1978, and Jimmy Teach is serving drinks to keep his head above water after a lucrative football career is cut short. Barely making ends meet as a former hometown hero reliving old stories, Jimmy’s life takes a drastic turn when Bloodworth Naylor recruits him to help Guatemalans run drugs. He makes some quick cash, but soon realizes that it’s not always about the money. His final run goes drastically wrong as he tries to back out of the deal.

Twenty years later, Teach is a drug rep for a pharmaceutical company. While sitting in a bar consuming a drink or two over his limit, he has a confrontation with a young man that will have immediate repercussions that connect directly to the sordid past that he fought to overcome. Suddenly, dark things that he had hidden away come to light. First come the memories, then come the people. Someone wants him to pay for the bad things that happened when the deal with the Guatemalans went sideways. 

In the intervening years, Teach falls in love, marries, has a child, and loses his wife in an accident. As a single father, he is devoted to his daughter. Despite the love for his family, before his wife’s death, he had an affair with a young woman, Thalia. Unbeknownst to him, Thalia is a link between him and his old days running with Naylor. This relationship causes unknown pain and angst for Teach. From his marital indiscretions to her relationship with Naylor, this woman brings trouble to him -- even well after they have ceased to see each other.

The story intertwines between Jimmy Teach and Bloodworth Naylor. Teach, aside from his daughter, keeps all his relationships at arm’s length. Naylor uses the people around him as pawns to achieve his goals. They are entirely disposable in his estimation. All the while Naylor does his best to destroy Teach for jeopardizing Naylor’s money flow, Naylor’s prison sentence, and for Teach stealing Thalia from him. 

The book becomes a chess match between the two foes. Naylor, who in the beginning has all the advantage, burns through his moves. Eventually he paints himself into a corner despite his apparent intelligence for such subterfuge. Teach is slower and more methodical, although he finds himself in a lot more trouble than his opponent. 

In the end, good prevails. Rather, less evil prevails. Both characters at the core of this novel are very flawed beings. The best and worst of humanity are on display in this novel. That makes this book all the more enjoyable. Real people have flaws. How those flaws are portrayed by the author and overcome and accepted by the characters makes or breaks a good story. Watson does an incredible job with it. The characters are true winners from the reader’s point of view.

This book flips back and forth between Teach’s and Naylor’s points of view. They are each distinctive in tone and thought. It was quite enjoyable to read. The suspense builds in this book and runs faster and faster until the end. I need to check the shelves at the library to see if there are any more books by Sterling Watson available to read. I can’t wait to read more.

Craig Bacon can barely wait for the library to reopen. This is the longest he’s gone without visiting that temple to knowledge. He needs to get back.