Review: In the Heat of the Night by John Ball

When I was a kid, borrowing tapes from the local Video Ezy every weekend, I knew when I slid a movie into the VCR I had a few minutes before the film started. What played in the interim was the requisite legal copyright verbiage, and a two minute featurette that was basically clips of various movies, the audio of which I unconsciously memorised, one line in particular, said by Sidney Poitier: “They call me Mr. Tibbs.”

Without context, those words lack the gravitas they merit in both Norman Jewinson’s 1967 film, and the John Ball novel it was adapted from, and published two years earlier: “In the Heat of the Night.” Despite their different intonations — Poitier’s voice is wearied and hardened, whereas it reads a little softer (though no less weary) — the Virgil Tibbs in both mediums are absolutely exhausted by the racial animus saturating the American South, and his simple response to the Chief of Police mocking inquiry about what he’s called back home in Pasadena is searing because of its coolness: in California, Tibbs is a person.

Ball’s novel is a conventional mystery involving the murder of music conductor Enrico Mantoli, whose body is found in the middle of the highway. Chief of Police Bill Gillespie orders Wood to round up any suspicious characters, and Virgil Tibbs fits the bill, waiting for his train back home at the local station. One telephone call to Pasadena later, Tibbs is cleared, and is roped into aiding the Wells police investigation; a scapegoat for the blame to be pinned on, should the case go unsolved.

Noxious racism coruscates through the town of Wells, and Tibbs is a character created by Ball to shatter the townspeople’s preconceptions. He’s almost too good to be true: a brilliant investigator, unruffled in the face of bigotry, impossibly intelligent. These facets are important to the story, but read contrived. Tibbs isn’t human: he’s an archetype. But we accept it, because that’s exactly what the narrative calls for. This is a snapshot of race relations in mid-sixties America during the civil rights movement with a side of murder and mystery. I’m keen to read more in the series, just to see whether Tibbs develops more as a character, and whether the plots become more intricate.

Published: 18 July 2016
ISBN: 9780241238622
Imprint: Peng. Mod. Classics
Format: Paperback
Pages: 176
RRP: $19.99

Review: The Force by Don Winslow

x293The Manhattan North Special Task Force operates by one primary principle: if you don’t intimidate the street, the street will kill you. Which means you’ve got to work outside the law to maintain it. And to keep the peace, you broker deals. You can’t exterminate crime, so you work with the gangs. You maintain a status quo. You get dirty, but you don’t get bent. You walk right up to the line, but you don’t cross it. Until the day you do.

“The Force” is Don Winslow’s epic novel about an elite NYPD task force. It’s savagely violent and unambiguous in its portrayal of corrupt cops, so overwhelmed by their toxic egos and merrily lining their pockets, they’ve forgotten why they became police in the first place. If they’re not entirely morally bankrupt, they’re down to their last cents. Their decision to skim $4 million and 20 kilos of heroin from the scene of a major bust is the most extravagant of their wrongdoings; the coup de grâce before their fiefdom crumbles. And as it falls apart, readers learn just how far the corruption extends.

Winslow does a good job of establishing his characters in their own lives. Events are narrated through Detective Sergeant Denny Malone: Irish American, son of a cop, who grew up in Staten Island, whose brother was a firefighter who died on 9/11. Malone’s also in the middle of a protracted divorce, and in a new relationship with a black, drug-addicted nurse. But the nature of the tale is that its characters’ ambiguities are lost as it gathers momentum. When the FBI starts squeezing Malone for information, turning him into a rat — the thing he most despises — I was eager to see how he could possibly extricate himself from his predicament. But I wasn’t emotionally invested in his survival, because to be frank, Malone is a bad guy, and deserves to go down for his crimes. It makes for a peculiar reading experience, rooting against the central character of a book. But it’s not a feeling I marinated on, such is its velocity.

“The Force” is punctuated with blockbuster action scenes. Punchy sentences and short paragraphs make these sequences kinetic and frenetic. They read like a crude, bloody ballet. Impressively Don Winslow takes a derivative concept, shakes it, and gives it new energy. “The Force” is terrific entertainment. A cop novel only he could write.

ISBN: 9781460753545
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 496
Published: 19th June 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd

Review: The Godmother Hannelore Cayre

the20godmother2028online29The Godmother | Hannelore Cayre | translated by Stephanie Smee |Black Inc | September 2019 | RRP $28.00 | 9781760641610

“My fraudster parents had a visceral love of money. They loved it, not like you love an inert object stashed away in a suitcase or held in some account. No. They loved it like a living, intelligent being that can create and kill, that is endowed with the capacity to reproduce.”

Hannelore Cayre’s The Godmother arrived at the bookshop billowing a trail of hype, anticipation and acclaim behind it. Winner of the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s most prestigious award for crime fiction, and adapted to screen, this bite-sized slice of French noir tells the story of Patience Portefeux, a widowed 53-year-old translator for the Paris drug squad, who lives meagerly, struggling to provide for her daughters and her aged mother’s care. When she comes into contact with the mother of a drug trafficker, she uses information gleaned from the police wiretaps she translates to secure a large quantity of hash. Under the alias the Godmother, she constructs a small criminal empire, thereby securing her financial future, and her family’s, and marinating over the moral implications of her decision.

It’s eminently readable, and efficiently translated by Stephanie Smee, but there’s a distinct lack of tension or excitement in The Godmother. It reads at a lackadaisical pace, which never threatens to become boring, but never got my blood boiling. It’s a fascinating portrait of a woman pushed to extremes, and her sardonic observations of French society are lacerating, but it faded in and out of my life with a glimmer rather than the explosion I was hoping for. I was never particularly anxious about Patience’s fate, and for a novel that’s fundamentally about a woman exposing herself to a city’s underworld and steeping herself in a corrupt world, that’s a real killer. It’s not bad; I just prefer my crime fiction with underlying menace.

Review: Lost You by Haylen Beck

9781911215608Once again writing under the pseudonym Haylen Beck, Stuart Neville has produced a top-notch, twist-filled psychological thriller about a woman who’ll do anything for her child.

Lost You opens in a holiday resort in Naples, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. In an anxiety-inducing scene, three-year-old Ethan squirms in a woman’s arms as she climbs to the hotel’s roof. Police and hotel security surround the area; she can hear cries of alarm from guests below. One foot in front of the other she continues to move across the rooftop, towards its edge, Ethan still struggling, their fates seemingly entwined. Which they are, and have been for a long time, as readers learn when the narrative spirals backwards, revealing Ethan’s true parentage, and the desperate, ruthless actions a mother is capable of when her child is at risk.

With shades of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Michael Robotham’s The Secrets She Keeps, the less you know about Lost You the better. It delivers twist after twist, and although connoisseurs of the genre might pick some, I’m positive even the most prolific psychological thriller reader won’t anticipate every swerve in this tale. Beck’s latest is a chilling, gripping thriller you’ll put your life on hold for to finish. A consummate tale of suspense.

ISBN: 9781911215608
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 27-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

9781526608130A swashbuckling adventure set in Prohibition-era New York City made even more engrossing by its emotional core and blend of characters. Fun, but without the sprinkling of magic that made The Explorer a standout.

In The Good Thieves, young Vita assembles a small team comprised of an expert pickpocket and a pair of budding circus performers to break into a derelict Hudson River castle once owned by her grandfather — cruelly purloined by a notorious conman named Victor Sorrotore — and recover a priceless hidden emerald.

Vita is an endearing protagonist, who rarely lets her bout with polio slow her down, and her fellow thieves are well-drawn and glow with personality. The action comes thick and fast, lyrically rendered, but New York never really comes alive like the jungle in The Explorer. The Good Thieves is guaranteed to entertain, but it is missing the emotional impact of its predecessor. Still, there’s no such thing as bad Katherine Rundell, and one of her middling novels is better than 95% of everything else on the shelves.

ISBN: 9781526608130
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 336
Imprint: Bloomsbury Childrens Books
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 13-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom