Fast-moving. Polished. Taut. These are qualities that dominated my thoughts as I neared the end of “Walking Homeless,” a thriller by Al Lamanda of Raymond, author of “Dunston Falls” and a Maine writer with a firm hand on a good story.

There’s little hint of Maine, however, in the book itself. Lamanda is a former New Yorker, and most of this dark tale takes place on the gritty streets below the Brooklyn Bridge. There, broken people fight off death in bleak cardboard houses, soothing themselves with cheap booze and with hot meals and services that humanitarian shelters provide.

In “Walking Homeless,” we meet John Tibbets, a street person well out of the usual mold. Oh, yes, the outer mask of poverty and deterioration is there. and large, it is all there is. Tibbets, shaggy and unkempt, speaks seldom. He has nothing to say — no thoughts about the present and no knowledge of his own past to convey.

Yet Tibbets is a highly trained killer. When violence is required, he provides it, using skills and death-dealing moves he has no idea how he learned and why he was trained to employ them.

Tibbets suffers from a deep amnesia. Only flashes of events lighten his personal darkness sometimes when he sleeps at night. What those images mean and what they are trying to convey is as mysterious to Tibbets as to anyone else.

The man is a mystery with a springlike tension that suggests he is important to all around him — and maybe even to the American government.

He is surrounded in “Walking Homeless” by appealing characters — Julie Warner, who offers warmth; police Capt. Walter Taft, who offers help; and several varied but well-drawn men and women on both sides of the law. All — or at least all who survive — are in the wings and available if Lamanda decides to revive John Tibbets in another adventure.

Like the bridge overhead, the route Tibbets travels in “Walking Homeless” may at times look straight and stable. Unlike the bridge, however, it is marked by unanticipated twists and turns that threaten to knock the story off track. It doesn’t happen.

That’s a tribute to Lamanda’s skills at keeping a complex story in play. Let’s hope he misses no chance to use them.


Nancy Grape writes book reviews for the Maine Sunday Telegram.