Guy walks into a bar. Orders a Preston Lang.
Barkeep asks, “What’s a Preston Lang?”
“Rye. With a hint of the barrel.”
“Yeah. That too.”
Anyone who missed Lang’s first two crime paperbacks, The Carrier and The Blind Rooster, ought to jump right in and read The Sin Tax. Hard, straight writing. Contemporary plot. All the author’s wry and unobtrusive observation of human habit.
Female baddy you can sympathize with flashes her gun to male ex-con baddy you can also sympathize with: “You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get a carry permit in New York. It’s insane. But once they give you one, they’re basically saying they want you to shoot somebody.”
It’s another New York setting—this time the Bronx and environs. Heads south to Delaware. But it’s a NYC story.
So is Janet serious? To protagonist Mark she’s serious as a heart attack:
It was a real gun, small and cold, looking like the smartest guy in the room.
There’s lots of Lang’s best ‘Who’s Hustling Who’ in The Sin Tax, a quest for money, smokes, and—less important—absolution. The petty take’s what matters. Watch it grow from 10’s to 100’s to ever bigger digits. Bigger as in life and death:
Only a psychotic individual would kill a man to make a point to someone as unimportant as Mark… once you erase a man as a form of communication to someone who isn’t even valuable to himself, there’s something very cold running inside of you.
Mark’s smarter than your average loser. But he’s not smart enough to avoid teaming up with your dumber than average loser, Slider. Slider delivers Mark straight into Janet’s hands, because smart or not he’s still just a two-bit loser, time served for busting a man’s head in a bar-fight and leaving his tongue on the counter.
To each his own vendetta in The Sin Tax, where even the winners get a taste the barrel.
Everyone knows that cigarettes will kill you. Mark works the overnight in a grimy deli in the Bronx, selling gray market smokes and bad meat. His hotheaded manager Janet pushes him to help her con their boss into paying cash for a truck full of tax-free cigarettes. Soon he finds that Janet is willing to do nearly anything to grab the money, and what they’re up to is a lot more dangerous than three packs a day. More.