- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

TRUST ME
By Peter Leonard
Minotaur, $24.95, 304 pages
REVIEWED BY LELEI LELAULU

Take three deep breaths, exhale slowly, pause, take a deeper breath then open this book. Trust me — you need controlled breathing to get through Peter Leonard’s rollicking thriller.

“Trust Me” is about gasping for air. Peter Leonard, like Leonard pere, depicts physical violence not so much in terms of sharp pain, and there’s plenty of that to go round, as it is about controlling the flow of air to the solar plexus. Breathtaking is a reviewer’s cliche. But it is simply the best way to describe the pace of Peter Leonard’s latest offering.

Remember Chili Palmer, the movie-mad debt collector in Leonard the elder’s “Get Shorty,” who like a Lamars trainer, gently coaches a recipient of his massive blow to the solar plexus how to take short, sharp, breaths exhorting, “Come on — you don’t wanna die do you?” (or, somesuch) until the pain subsides?

Well, Leonard the younger, displays no such solicitousness for victims, or readers, preferring to leave the grab bag of ne’er-do-well characters, and we the readers, to gasp our way through this romp across the Midwestern rust belt of Michigan, Illinois and, in a cameo, Detroit’s Canadian sister, Windsor, Ontario.

And, indeed, our lead character, Karen Delaney, a blue-eyed, flaming red-headed beauty who careens into hopeless relationships with charming, flakey and criminal peacocks, propels us through the underbellies of Detroit and Chicago with pit stops in between.

Not that the plot’s pit stops provide much of a breather; it’s merely an opportunity for Mr. Leonard to open another sluice gate for us to be sucked through, gasping for air.

Karen Delaney finally takes control of her life in an attempt to recover her life savings from a former lover, Samir, patriarch of a Lebanese-American crime family. Receiving several belly blows when she demanded $300 grand of her own money from her erstwhile lover, she recruits two bungling burglars who were ham-handedly breaking into another of her ex-beau’s pad.

After Karen enlists the amateurish pair of miscreants — a khaki-wearing gambler and a scatty ex-con — in a plot to rob Samir’s safe and its million-plus dollars of content, for good measure she adds a psychotic killer to the gang who can’t get anything straight.

As we all know, whenever someone produces a foolproof scheme a new, better, fool always magically materializes to disprove the contention.

And of course, her foolproof plan to take back her money, plus about a million more in the gangster’s safe, goes painfully awry and the short breathing is under way in earnest, and doesn’t subside until the end, as Karen and her dopey duo are pursued by Iraqi hitmen, a dogged ex-con former cop and, of course, her former gang members.

I know people who use car-chase scenes in movies as bathroom breaks because such scenes are so hackneyed these days. Leonard fils, however, has managed to write car chases that are more suspenseful than the computer-assisted caricatures on the silver screen.

With the exception of “Oak,” the ex-cop ex-con, the men of “Trust Me” are brutally inept, emotional cripples.

In a break from the genre’s tradition, the women of “Trust Me” have the best speaking parts and enjoy more than their share of brains and creativity. But they do receive more than their share of the beatings. Equality is painful in this book.

Karen is smart, sassy, down on her luck and wracked with guilt at the pain needlessly leveled at her family and friends by her escapade. Her sister, Virginia, is an engaging, multi-pierced gothic whose own life is upended by Karen’s adventure.

And the male of the species gets little mercy from Mr. Leonard’s ladies. Reviewing relationships with her girlfriend Stephanie, while an an Iraqi hit man eyes her across a posh bar, they discuss the three stages of relationships: stage one — “infatuation bordering on lust” that lasts “a couple of days or months” followed by stage two “the slow but sure buildup of contempt, which can go on for a long time — years.” Stage three, we learn, “is the loathing … although a euphemism for marriage. Its the end of hope — when your soul is sucked out by your joyless, loveless life partner — crushing your will to live.”

Peter Leonard once toyed with the idea of becoming a chef so the cuisine de livre is Levantine. But Leonard fils doesn’t quite exhibit a cordon bleu reverence for the delights of a languid mezze: He swears while at the same time “spitting bits of kibbee neyee out of his mouth.”

The book should move well on the title alone in at least two of the world’s great foodie cities, Beirut and New York, where the phrase “Trust Me” usually presages a blow to your body, to your palate or to your earthly belongings.

Mr. Leonard packs a lot of detail and color into his book and may yet develop his father’s mastery of the brushed back strokes, the dialogue unspoken and the chrystalline sepia tones they evoke.

But for now Peter Leonard will have plenty of time to hone his craft as there will be calls for sequels featuring at least a couple of characters he so vividly painted in this novel. Trust me, you will hear from young Peter again very soon. In the meantime, use the respite to practice your breathing.

Lelei LeLaulu writes on the linkages between development, climate change, conservation and food security for the Development Executive Group.

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