Something for Nothing
reviewed by
Anne Stinson

 

Something for Nothing by David Anthony. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 384 pp. Paperback. $13.95.
Martin Anderson, the leading character in David Anthony’s debut novel, is an odd hero (or antihero) to carry the weight of 384 pages of skullduggery.
On the surface, Martin has it all and is doing well. He has a lovely wife and two children whom he loves, in spite of the fact that they’re annoying. Peter, who is eight, acts out in school, is overweight and has no friends. Sarah’s 13 and on the brink of the dreaded stage of adolescence. Mom finds marijuana in Sarah’s purse, squeals on her daughter and both parents accompany the kid to a mandated lecture on the dangers of drug use.
On balance, things could be worse. The Andersons live in a posh suburb in a beautiful house with a swimming pool; Martin owns a deep sea fishing boat and a promising race horse.
His business, on the other hand, is in a big slump. He sells small airplanes and the market is dead. It’s the early 1970s, gasoline is scarce and the economy has tanked. Customers? Zero.
In short, Martin blunders along in his usual fashion, anxious about his debts and paranoid about his own failures. Sentences, whole paragraphs, even entire chapters are a litany of his inability to live up to his upscale position in life.
In truth, the novel is a bit of a bore in the first few chapters. The sad sack of the main character fails to arouse interest. Martin is a liar, a big phony and still in middle age, a nervous kid. So far, the book reads like a tedious report from a psychiatrist’s notebook. The temptation to toss the novel aside and choose a different one for review was strong.
It would have been a big mistake. Martin’s life is about to become very interesting, indeed.
Martin has a naughty little secret. He has no intention of cheating on his wife, but he lusts after a gorgeous woman a few houses down the block.
One night, when he realizes their house is empty, he sneaks across the back lawns, opens the sliding doors to their patio and prowls around their house, just to see how they live. He succumbs to the urge to inspect the bedroom she shares with her boorish oaf of a husband.
Martin is checking out the contents of her jewelry box when he hears her come in her front door and upstairs. Terrified of exposure, he flattens himself on the floor on the far side of the bed and scarcely breathes while she uses the bathroom and leaves.
Martin waits until he hears the front door close and her car drive off and, although panicked, he can’t resist stealing her jewelry box as a keepsake. He plans to hide it in his closet until he has a chance to sneak it back into its owner’s house.
In the meantime, he needs to deal with his debts before the bank forecloses on him. His accountant fails to arrange a bank loan. Martin is in big financial trouble.
What’s more, his neighbor alerts the police about the break-in and the theft of her jewelry box. Slater, the friendly cop who drops in, says he’s asking the neighbors if any of them have seen anyone suspicious on their quiet street. He recognizes Martin and his kids – he’s the same officer who delivered the drug lecture at Sarah’s unhappy incident.
He’s smooth with the kids, and Peter is fascinated to meet the man who started his lecture by saying he’s been a big-city narcotics cop who was wounded twice by druggies during arrests. His appearance puts Martin in another sweat. For good reason.
In a recent conversation with his horse trainer, Val, Martin is nudged for repayment of a loan Val made with him. Val wants his money back, and Martin doesn’t have it. What Martin does have is his unsold airplanes.
Val offers to set Martin up in a one-night job – a quick jaunt in darkness to Mexico. Martin can drop off a sack of money, wait until his plane is loaded with drugs and return. It will only take a couple of hours, Val says, and Martin can be home and in bed before daylight. The job pays $5,000, and all Martin has to do afterward is keep his mouth shut.
Martin is reluctant to be involved, so he struggles with the offer. As the noose tightens on his business crisis, he weakens and finally agrees. He desperately needs the money.
The caper does not go off as smoothly as Val described it, but a day later, Martin is home with a terrible hangover and the taste of fear in his mouth.
Never again, he tells himself. The Mexicans were a rough bunch, all carrying big guns, and Martin doesn’t speak Spanish. When Val enlists him for another run, Martin balks. Val reminds him that he’s already part of an illegal scheme, and big boys are now shipping heroin. If he bails now, he’s as good as dead. Martin falls in line again.
His nerves are now really shot, no less so when the former Narc, Detective Slater, calls on him again, this time to identify the owner of a crashed airplane that Martin sold. The pilot is nowhere to be found, but the plane is loaded with drugs. Martin produces his records and recognizes the buyer in Slater’s mug shot book. Now he’s more scared than ever. The missing pilot will want him killed before he is captured and comes to trial.
In for a dime, in for a dollar, reasons the miserable Martin. Val beckons with the date of another run below the border. Martin is summoned to Val’s house to pick up the sack of money to pay for the load. What he finds there raises his paranoia to an overwhelming level.
His wife and kids are out of town, so Martin hides out on his boat, feeling desperate as a marked man. Too many people want him dead.
To outline the story further would be to spoil the climax of the tale, but it’s a shocker. No matter how clever a sleuth the reader considers him/herself, the author has made the title apt. “Something for Nothing” is an expensive game.
The book is new, just published in June, and the publisher calls it “The Big Summer Read.” Your critic suggests that the reader slog through the first three chapters, nodding off for naps from time to time, but don’t toss it aside. You won’t want to sleep again until you’ve been as frightened as poor blundering Martin is during his ordeal. Which he knows could be his demise. I’m not telling. Just be careful what you wish for.
Highly recommended!

Anne Stinson began her career in the 1950s as a free lance for the now defunct Baltimore News-American, then later for Chesapeake Publishing, the Baltimore Sun and Maryland Public Television’s panel show, Maryland Newsrap. Now in her ninth decade, she still writes a monthly book review for Tidewater Times.