“Book Review: Bullets for Silverware”
Reviewed by Tucker Lieberman
A web of deceit envelops an Appalachian town in this atmospheric and action-filled mystery
Jim Antonini’s Bullets for Silverware is a mystery that chills, titillates, and above all entertains. The enterprising young protagonists, without realizing what they have plunged into, find themselves in the midst of a dangerous criminal network.
Michael is a recent pharmacy graduate. His slightly older fiancée, a girl-next-door who has just finished a degree program a thousand miles from home, expects that the two of them will finally settle down in the same city again and that Michael will begin medical school (as her physician father pressures him to do). But Michael has other plans. He has already found a lucrative pharmacy job that will allow him to financially support his grandmother and save for his future. The job is in rural West Virginia; he will still be hours away from his fiancée, prolonging their physical separation.
The job is strange from the beginning. Mr. Butterman, the lead pharmacist, without ever having met Michael, has hired him not only as a pharmacist but also as a housesitter for his opulent residence. Butterman plans to supervise the young man for one week and then to leave to winter in Florida. Michael gradually realizes why the job pays so well: opiate addiction is endemic in the Appalachian town, and the townspeople expect him, as pharmacist, to hand over painkillers and even make home deliveries.
To the hardened criminals here, life is cheap, so the stakes are high. Meanwhile, Michael is left to his own devices to explore the secrets in Butterman’s house that may shed light on the whereabouts of the last young pharmacist apprentice. He must also contend with the sexual advances of Crystal, a beautiful young woman with a troubled past.
This novel has a Hitchcockian flavor. It’s recognizable in Butterman’s presence before he leaves for vacation: “The door remained open for ten, maybe fifteen seconds, but it seemed much longer. Even though I couldn’t see him, I knew he was still there. I could hear him breathing. Finally, the door closed.” The crimes leave physical clues with a classic detective feel, allowing us to watch Michael piece together what happened in a satisfying way; and there is even an erotic charge throughout as he manages the attention of two women which adds to the Hitchcock air.
The story is mostly narrated by Michael, but it includes many scenes that he does not personally witness, and sometimes this seems like an irregularity. For example, Michael says: “As Butterman watched me leave the drug store, he turned…” and the rest of the drugstore scene is described even though Michael is no longer in the store to witness it. In another case, Michael describes himself as having been knocked “unconscious” yet is nevertheless aware of who is “looking at me,” and the novel provides the specific dialogue around him. This perspective shift can be a bit disorienting, but it doesn’t mar the experience too much.
Overall, the scenes roll out smoothly, and it is easy to imagine this story as film noir. It’s a clear case of good guys and bad guys—or mostly so! The unflappable young pharmacist might have made a good doctor, but then, he might have been good at a lot of careers; he performs steadily when his feet are held to the fire.
Paperback: 288 pages
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