Marley's Reviews > Ask the Dice

Ask the Dice by Ed Lynskey
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Jan 07, 2012

really liked it
Read from January 07 to 08, 2012 — I own a copy

I'm a fan of adoptee noir, so it was a pleasant surprise to find Ask the Dice a member of that growing subgenre. No doubt some adoption deformers will get the vapors at the thought of a hit man who just happens to be adopted (hit man, might be too benevolent--from the way Tommy Mack Zane our protagonist and narrator tells it,the number of dead pile up in the hundreds), but as a Bastard I found it refreshing and so un-PC. Even better, he's a TRA hit man, black and adopted by a white Washington DC couple from an "orphan home" in Champagne's Folly, Texas, his landing point after his parents mysteriously committed suicide, giving him an extra layer or two of adoptee angst and screwed upedness. He clearly loves his adoptive parents Amanda and Phil Zane, but feels apart, different. Being 5 or 6 years old and finding his mother Nela hanging in the kitchen a week after his father, Bradford killed himself doesn't help much. Thankfully, Tommy Mack suffers no primal wound and doesn't blame his career choice on adoption.

But back to the book. Tommy Mack is a contract killer for the blind, dirty-minded, and mysterious Watson Og (love the name!) the crime boss of the WDC area who lives in a crappy bungalow in order to keep a low profile. Mr Og reminds me of William Burroughs in green aviator glasses. He has two hot-to-trot nieces, Gwen and Rita, in his charge (more or less) which is where the trouble starts.

See, Tommy Mack is...well...getting tired of his job. After all, he's been whacking skimmers, cheats, witnesses for the prosecution, snitches, thugs, and a boxcar of plain troublesome people for Mr. Og since he was 18, and now at the age of 54 he'd like take down his shingle. Mr. Og has other ideas, or shall we say, he's planning to take Tommy Mack's shingle down himself. It was a little unclear to me just why Mr Og has a hard-on for long time trusted employee Tommy Mack, other than he has one on for everybody, and the dice shook out Tommy Mack this time around. I mean, this is a guy who will knock off his own family if they "misbehave" or even if they don't. He seems to be in to object lessons. Besides,Tommy Mack has a tendency to act up sometimes even to the point of fudging a hit he deems unfair.

I won't spoil the fun--too much. After Mr. Ogg frames Tommy Mack for the murder of his niece Gwen, the cast of characters grows. Old friends D Noble from the 'hood who's been playing dead from AIDS for the last few years and Esquire, a gay hulk of a car upholsterer who favors hammers and knuckle dusters if he must; and new friends Danny, a female Northern Virginia gun dealer and Big Jamal, a midget with a Glock, join Tommy Mack's crew to eliminate Mr. Og permanently from the WDC scenery. To pepper the pot, as the gig begins to go down, Tommy Mack starts to draw the dots together and comes to some startling personal revelations about his own life. The denouement--well think of Red Harvest.

Tommy Mack is a traditionalist. He abhors cell phones and has a rolodex in his head of phone booths in DC Metro. In his off-hours, he listens to old school jazz, (especially Bird) watches vintage black-produced film noir, and writes poetry. As someone who misspent much of her youthful should-be-sleeping time listening to XERB and XERF border blasting all the way from the Mexic6 toCanton, Ohio, I especially like his (and Lynsky'A poem X Radio Station: Texas 1940s.

Some of the writing in Ask the Dice is a little clunky; some of the plot and narrative improbable, but you can say the same about Chandler, Hammett, and Cain (anybody ever actually read Double Indemnity?) all of whom Lynsky seems to draw on. I was hoping that Mr Og was shagging his nieces, but alas! That is, as far as we know. Tommy Mack should have been younger by 10 years or so which would tighten up the timeline a little. Mr. Og is supposedly only a "person of interest" to the WDC police (and I assume the FBI) when he's a crime boss in the nation's capital connected to "the Baltimore family." In real life, WDC,has plenty of criminals, but no traditional crime family unless you count Congress. The idea that he can maintain a low profile just doesn't make sense.

Tommy Mack's adoption story is left open ended, even if it appears to be closed in the book. There's a lot more going on there that we don't know, but our protagonist has other things on his mind--sorta.--and says he doesn't care. He will. He's adopted, and I've never known an adoptee to let their story hang, for very long, eve if it's bad.

Tommy Mack's return to Champagne's Folly, during a road trip, courtesy of Mr Og, was handled with sensitivity and I'd like to see more of that part of the story. A search for the truth that goes deeper than what's he's already done. I hope Lynsky and Tommy Mack revisit and dissect the story a la James Ellroy's My Dark Places.

A sequel? Here's an idea: Tommy Mack Zane, after returning to Champagne's Folly to investigate his parents deaths and uncover his adaption secrets, takes on the Texas adoption industry and the legislature and gets our records opened. How Tommy Mack accomplishes this miracle we'll leave up to Ed Lynsky and Tommy Mack.
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