Scott Phillips burst onto the crime scene with his superb, pitch-black thriller The Ice Harvest, which was made into pretty good film starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton—but the original novel has an evil-grin dark humor that’ll knock you flat. Published in 2000, The Ice Harvest remains Phillips’ masterpiece. In the aftermath of that instant classic of the genre, Phillips delivered some good efforts in the form of The Walkaway, Cottonwood, and The Adjustment—but many of his follow-up novels and stories have veered toward historical and away from the neo-noir, sometimes giddily filthy stylings of his greatest work.
Now, Phillips is returning to the scene, big-time, with That Left Turn at Albuquerque, due in March 2020. The story concerns Douglas Rigby, a sleazy, muscle-bound, morally bankrupt attorney who, just as we meet him, is comically failing an in-over-his-head drug deal. As it does, his focus turns to his last remaining client: former bigshot TV exec Glenn Haskill, who, on his deathbed, describes a piece of art in his collection that just might be spectacularly undervalued. A plan is hatched to gain possession of the painting as part of an art-forgery scheme. Problem is, everyone around Rigby is similarly sleazy, from a two-timing wife to a calculating girlfriend to Haskill’s opportunistic nurse, to Haskill’s money-grubbing nephew.
That Left Turn in Albuquerque is filled to the brim with betrayal, awful human behavior, and murder, and yet—like The Ice Harvest—is almost constantly hilarious. (Again, you have to be dialed in to this specific brand of inky black humor. It happens to hit my dark sensibilities perfectly.) It’s also a quick read, coming in at fewer than 300 pages and nearly 50 short chapters. This is a highly recommended blast of comedic neo-noir that marks a return to form for a fantastic, precise crime writer.