Paul Panepinto is bored at work. How could he not be? He’s a painter trapped by lapsed policies, cold chocolate in a Federal Funding mug, and long stints of muzak while on hold with Mortgage Depot. Also there are his smarmy daydreams of ‘better times’ with Suzanne Biedertyme to get him through the monotony.
Panepinto works in insurance.
As with most of the office hacks in Michael J. Sahno’s Miles of Files, Panepinto’s silver lining is that he works for not just any insurance company, but for Flambet Insurance. As the name suggests, the place is about to go up in flames.
Enter Graham Woodcock, the British second-in-command to Flambet’s witless heir, James. Woodcock’s embezzling from the company IRA through the phony accounts of non-existent employees Dolores Buenas and Philip Banks.
When Panepinto stumbles across the accounts with a few errant keystrokes, the novel’s central thread is set. Miles of Files is on its way to being a literary PI story focused more on the innocent and the victimized than on the PI or the crook.
Sahno takes a few detours along the way, some of which jazz it up. His naming conventions are fun—add Cora Gable to the aforementioned Panepinto, Woodcock, Flambet and Beidertyme. The side-plots are lively and salacious (take local TV weatherman Frank Brenkus, horny, fat and old at 39 among the cast of 20-somethings), if a little long. And without moralizing the tale reminds us of the classic themes—crime doesn’t pay and the rich grow weak.
For all of $60k Woodcock becomes a man on the lam without a country and without prospects; both sons of self-made Flambet wealth are feckless and wretched; and the good-hearted Panepinto makes the most of his severance package to do the thing he loves: paint his brains out and win the love of his romantic interest.
Sahno’s prose is solid, both literary and direct. His broad net catches Tampa’s nightlife, a down-luck PI, and the dreary workaday cops taking low-grade criminal complaints—one of his most accurate voices is the robo-tone of phone menus leading callers in circular self-defeat:
‘…if you’re reporting that someone is using your name or identity numbers to steal from you or someone else, press four; if you’re reporting a runaway juvenile or missing person, press five; if you’re reporting…’ The list reaches eight; Panepinto, waiting in this maddening queue, reflects on the depressing fact that missing persons is not a higher priority than number five. Poor guy’s given plenty of time to think about it as the police non-emergency line takes him through English and Spanish versions of repeating messages that lead him, finally, to an unhelpful, if living, voice.
Long and distracted in places, Miles of Files overall delivers a cast of rascals trying to get by, and mostly succeeding, in the dizzying Florida sun. More from MJS here.