'Four Kinds of Rain': A Hapless Hero's Noir Heist Tale The sad-sack central character of Robert Ward's latest novel is the anti-hero of a darkly comic story of love and crime, who falls in love with a woman who knows a loser when she sees one. He sets out to win her affections with a heist gone bad...
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'Four Kinds of Rain': A Hapless Hero's Noir Heist Tale

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'Four Kinds of Rain': A Hapless Hero's Noir Heist Tale

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. If you read much crime fiction, you know the typical hero. He's a kind of down-on-his-luck private eye with some kind of backstory. With his new book, Four Kinds of Rain, the novelist and screenwriter, and a guy with his own backstory as a pick up basketball wizard, Robert Ward updates this genre. He's got a new kind of hero: a down-on-his-luck, hardboiled psychiatrist.

Here's critic Veronique De Turenne.

VERONIQUE DE TURENNE: It's an icy 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. Turns out 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, 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 in love. And mad is the operative term here.

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's 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 to steal an ancient, jewel-encrusted mask from one of his patients. The scheme goes haywire, of course, and Bob tumbles down a one-way rabbit hole of larceny, betrayal and, eventually, 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 workingman tale, 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. Sure, you'll skip the blood and gore, but you'll also miss the terrific writing that makes this book fly by.

It's doubtful you'll like Bob Wells any more in the twists of Four Kinds of Rain than you did in the first. Robert Ward, however, is sure to keep you up way past your bedtime.

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CHADWICK: Critic Veronique De Turenne is a writer living here in Los Angeles. You can read the first chapter of Robert Ward's novel Four Kind's Rain at our Web site, npr.org.

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CHADWICK: And there's more to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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