Greed, sex, and murder combine in .45-Caliber Perfume by Leo W. Banks, a gritty, face-paced, and entertaining contemporary noir tale.
One thing Leo W. Banks does exceptionally well is the way he uses a well-chosen word or phrase that does so much to paint a scene or create a mood, a hallmark of the best noir fiction writers.
Most of us rise above our baser instincts, but not so for the main characters in .45-Caliber Perfume. It’s a story about a shady politician and two women in his life, all who act on their baser instincts, so we can’t help but be fascinated. We learn all three have secrets and hidden agendas which set them on a collision course. This, along with the terse, snappy dialogue and suspenseful plotting, gives the reader no chance to get bored.
Arizona businessman Henry Belmont’s senate campaign is looking good. The cash contributions are rolling in and Mary Rose Cleary, his sexy, young campaign manager and mistress, is happy to handle the flow, as long as she can secretly pocket her cut. Complicating the picture is Henry’s conniving wife Barbara, a fading beauty with a secret criminal past and a deadly agenda. But Mary and Barbara share more than a bed with handsome Henry. They both love guns, money and sex…and know how to use them to get what they want. Now, in the brutal heat of a Phoenix summer, the lives of this scheming trio will collide in a violent explosion of betrayal, greed and murder.
Henry Vincent Belmont (Vin the Chin), we learn, was once an all-conference college football star with his sights set on the NFL until a knee injury crushed the dream. Now he is a self-made Phoenix businessman running for the United States Senate, motivated by the same things as most politicians, profiting from influence peddling and the thirst for fame and power. The two principal women in his life are his wife Barbara and his campaign manager Mary Rose Cleary. As might be expected, Mary is the common denominator in the story between Henry Belmont and his wife, Barbara. Mary manages not only Henry’s campaign fundraising, she is also his mistress, dreaming that once Henry gets elected, he’ll dump Barbara, marry her and take her to Washington with him. But no one knows her husband as well as Barbara does. She knows all about his philandering ways and Barbara has ambitions of her own that don’t include Henry.
Banks alternates between Mary and Barbara as narrators, so we hear from both the women and he produces believable and individual “voices” for each which I found compelling. It allows us to see the events and situations unfold from their individual points of view. We learn what they think about Henry, each other, and gain insight into their specific characters (or lack thereof), motivations, and agendas.
Ostensibly, Mary Rose Cleary at the beginning, despite her selfish motivations, is committed to Henry and helping him succeed. But once she discovers Henry’s secrets and that she won’t realize her dreams, that facade falls away quickly. Mary isn’t quite the nice girl and dedicated assistant we first believed she was, but a rather shady, conniving, and vengeful person who intends to get what she believes she deserves. As secrets get revealed and the lies uncovered amidst alcohol-fueled and illicit sexual trysts, we learn the unvarnished truths about two women with troubled pasts and hidden agendas. I’m uncertain we can find a single likeable character in this book, someone to feel sympathy for or root for. But understanding they are all on the edge of moral breakdown (or have already completed it), their actions are understandable.
There’s a sense of predictability here and I think readers will clearly see where this book is going. After all, the reason most of us strive to rise above our baser instincts is because we know we would get burned in the end if we didn’t. But not so for the main characters here. This is a story about all three acting on their baser instincts, so we can’t help but be fascinated despite knowing things probably won’t end well for them. And Banks throws in enough surprises, it’s good fun for all.
Our verdict is .45-Caliber Perfume is a safe bet if you’re in the market for a gritty, suspenseful, noir fiction read where the combination of sex, greed, and murder moves the plot along masterfully. Just don’t expect light to triumph over darkness or good to win out in the end.
I received a copy of the book used for this review from the publisher via the author, which represents my own honest opinions.