The essence of a grifter, even a well meaning one, is wrapped in the essence of risk and danger vs. reward. In “A Lot Of Nerve” [Ian McCulloch/Thistle/280pgs], it is about the lead character of Jones knowing where to see his limits versus the capital to be gained. Like most criminal protagonists, he always seems to be one step ahead of his competition until he gets in over his head. The play at hand involves a set of papers which involve a formula that Jones seems to know nothing about. The time frame in terms of year is vague but sticks firmly in the modern with a slight ode to a bit of film noir without losing the plot devices of burner phones and GPS. The aspect that fuels the book has to do with the essence of identity but also the chess game that goes on behind the scenes to make everything look normal. Jones is under the thumb of a local gangster named Finch who unfairly gouges him because of his own shortcomings. Jones supposedly gets on the radar of a government branch who may or may not be who they say they are. The true structure though comes in the form of Tomasetti which is where the true meat of the story lies. There is an undeniably Godfather structure to the old man’s progression especially in the extremes of violence and calm without moving a finger. The aspect of Horlicks (a kind of hot chocolate with alliteration) instills both contentment, fear and a sense of understanding between Jones and his very superior teacher. The aspect of tactile approach is what differentiates Jones as he looks to punish only those who require a bit of schooling. Hernandez, a police inspector who happens upon part of his little scheme, plays both confidant, semi romantic interest and plot device despite her very real essence of making sure Jones knows his place. “A Lot Of Nerve” nicely intersects the reasoning of the lead character pushing the boundaries of story texture while still allowing for a dexterous yarn.
By Tim Wassberg