Veronique De Turenne
It's a freezing winter night in Baltimore when we meet Bob Wells, the hapless hero of Robert Ward's novel, Four Kinds of Rain. Bob's soused on vodka and about to be kicked in the groin by the crazy homeless man he's been trying to help. It's equal parts metaphor for Bob's screwed-up life, and roadmap for the darkly comic story to come.
Bob's a middle-aged shrink with a shrinking practice. He's been dumped by his wife, he's gambled away his life savings and could use a few hours on the couch himself. His only pleasure in life is playing lead guitar with the Rockaholics, a bar band. They're on stage when Bob gets the bad news: Their singing stinks, the patrons are bored and the Rockaholics are about to get the boot.
Then, in classic noir style, in walks the blonde. The dame. Jesse. In just three sentences, we see Bob fall madly — and mad is the operative term here — in love.
The front door opened and a very wet woman came hustling in out of the rain. Bob looked up and felt something happening in his chest. Jesus, she was something... She had thick blonde hair and the most beautiful, sensual lips. And her skin... He hadn't seen anything like it before. It was soft and white and her nostrils flared a little, and her eyes, Christ, he'd never seen eyes like those, ever. They were small and almond-shaped and green — they seemed to hold a secret, or a promise.
If Jesse's eyes hold either, Bob is never going to find out. He's broke, and Jesse won't date losers. Bob's nothing if not desperate, so he hatches a plan steal an ancient, jewel-encrusted mask from one of his few remaining patients. The scheme goes haywire, of course, and Bob tumbles down a one-way rabbit hole of larceny, betrayal and murder.
Four Kinds of Rain is almost old-fashioned in its plot and pacing. Ward, who won the PEN West prize for Best Novel for his working-man novel Red Baker, went on to write TV shows like the often-sublime Hill Street Blues and the sometimes ridiculous Miami Vice.
If you like stories told from an ironic remove, you've picked the wrong writer. Whether his characters are punch-drunk, sucker-punched or just plain suckered, Ward makes sure we feel it all. In fact, the book is occasionally violent enough that, for the gentler souls among us, skimming rather than reading is a temptation. You'll miss the blood and gore, sure, but you'll also miss the terrific writing that makes this book fly by.
It's doubtful you'll like Bob Wells any more on the last page of Four Kinds of Rain than you did on the first. Robert Ward, however, is sure to keep you up way past your bedtime.