From the Publisher's Weekly review:
Everywhere you look, trashy people are doing trashy things in this darkly delicious debut comic thriller. Set in the middle of a Christmas Eve blizzard in 1979 Wichita, the novel opens with lawyer-turned-petty-mobster Charlie Arglist marking time before an important meeting with his shady partner, Vic Cavanaugh.Charlie Arglist is getting out of town. For the nine and a half hours he has to kill before he can leave, he visits various of his old haunts and has a very uncomfortable encounter with his ex-wife and children. We get a pretty pathetic picture of his life at this point. His apartment is mostly emply; the fridge has the remnants of some very old food. First he visits a bar...
At four-fifteen on a cold, dry Christmas Eve a nervous middle-aged man in an expensive overcoat walked bare-headed into the Midtown Tap Room and stood at the near end of the bar with his membership card in hand, waiting for the afternoon barmaid to get off the phone. She was about forty, heavy in a square way, with a shiny face and dishwater blond hair that looked like she'd got shitfaced and decided to cut it herself.
... ... ...
He couldn't remember ever seeing the Tap Room in daylight before, if the failing gray light filtering through the grime on the front windows qualified as such. It was a deep, narrow old building with a battered pressed-tin ceiling and a long oak bar. On the brick wall behind the bandstand hung a huge black-faced clock with fluorescent purple numbers, and running the length of the opposite wall was a row of red Naugahyde booths. All of this was festooned with cheap plastic holly and mistletoe. Around the walls seven feet or so from the floor ran a string of multicolored Christmas lights, unplugged at the moment. This is my last look at this place, he thought, mildly surprised at the idea. He hadn't been out of town for more than two or three days at a time in fifteen years.I have a love / hate relationship with this book. It is unrelentingly grim and bleak. Yet, Scott Phillips tells a great story, and I enjoyed reading it, mostly. I don't mind reading about sleazy characters with little or no redeeming qualities when the writing is so good and I could handle the violence in this book. But in the end, I wanted something more. I wasn't looking for a happy ending; that obviously wasn't going to happen. I really don't know what I expected.
It may have had to do with having watched the movie first. We watched the movie three or four years ago, and I remembered it as more comic and lighter. Not a barrel of fun, but not as bleak. Many reviewers talk about how funny this book is... but I was not laughing. The scene of Charlie visiting his in-laws and seeing his young children for the first time in months was heart-breaking.
This was Scott Phillips' debut novel. It was nominated for the Best First Novel Edgar and short listed for the Gold Dagger award from the CWA for 2001. So if you are interested in noir fiction, I would definitely recommend this book.
Shortly after reading the book, we watched the movie again. I liked the movie even more this time, having read the source material. There were changes in the plot, but the movie sticks to the basic story. The ending of the movie is slightly less dark than the book, but it fits with the overall tone of the story. Scott Phillips has said that he is happy with the adaptation of his novel.
My husband liked the movie for the bad weather and the Christmas setting. I liked the choice of actors; John Cusack plays Charlie Arglist, Billy Bob Thornton is his partner in crime, and Connie Nielsen plays the gorgeous femme fatale. Oliver Platt plays a friend who is now married to Charlie's ex-wife. The film was directed by Harold Ramis.
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2001. Orig. pub. 2000.
Length: 217 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Setting: Wichita, Kansas, Christmas Eve
Source: I purchased this book.