I have to preface this review by admitting that, although I have watched countless crime drama and thrillers, I have never actually read one before. The good thing about this is that I can rate the novel just as a *novel* not a *crime novel*; and apply to it the same criteria with which I would judge any other contemporary work of fiction. The disadvantage is that I will tend to point out as meritable features, aspects which might be commonplace in this genre. So to mystery/noir enthusiasts - an advance apology: you would probably be better-off reading some of the other reviews here. On a rainy Friday night in New Orleans, homicide detective Tom Acorsi and Maya Thomas are called out to a Vietnamese restaurant which has been turned into the scene of an urban massacre: five bodies, three guns and an awful lot of blood. The till is empty; two of the dead are teenagers -- a hold-up? a gang feud? These are all too common occurrences in New Orleans. A local crime is not something that should interest Federal Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. But one of the murder victims was an illegal gun dealer called Dewitt Foley; a petty criminal on whom the Feds had a *very* big file. So what they want to know is whether it was Foley or the other victims who were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Daniel Chaisson - idealistic district attorney turned pick-up man for crooked politician Jimmy Boudrieux - would probably be able to help them. He had gone to the restaurant to pick-up one last collection, from a man called Dewitt Foley. Foley had given him a briefcase; Foley had seemed nervous; and now Foley was dead; killed - Danny is sure - by the two plain-clothed policemen who had led the teenagers into the restaurant just as Danny was leaving - unseen- by the back exit. The same two policemen who had already left by the time Danny returned - just minutes later - to the spectacle of a bloodbath. But if you
had the job, the 'friends' that Danny has, would you want to get involved? Through the rest of the book, we see these tree parties carrying out their own investigations; and the 'baddies' who constantly stay one step ahead. This cast of characters include dim policemen, a frustrated lover, a heartbroken parent and an unscrupulous political aide. Abel takes what I gather are some standard 'ingredients' - crooked politicians, dirty cops, teenage gangs, dodgy businessmen - and cooks up a gourmet of a story. With so many strands to the plot , and so many characters, it would be easy for both reader and writer to get 'lost' in the book. Abel avoids this by asserting a tight grip over his narrative. He turns his story into a kind of film - creating little 'scenes'; devoting each one to a set of characters or a particular investigation. This means that a single morning is seen in several different scenes, from several different angles -- what Mickie did; what Tom did; what Maura did, etc. The second key element is the depth of characterisation. Abel defines and individualises the most minor characters. Bartolo, the dodgy policeman, is almost comically stupid; Claude and Phuong are given depth by being apportioned a beautiful history: a Vietnamese girl and an American GI who managed to get married and live happily ever after. To me, the most alluring aspect of the book is that the story is centred on one particular theme: the past. Danny does this awful job because of his father's association with Jimmy Bordrieux; Claude and Phuong make food "that tasted like a lost war": a mixture of Vietnamese and Creole, reflecting the country where Phuong was born and the history of the African-American Claude. Each of the characters is arrested by the events of their own past -- Mickie Vega has constant knew trouble from the injury she suffered when training to be an agent. O
utside the room of a gun-shot victim, Maya Thomas remembers the death of her own mother. A wealthy, well-known businessman tells his employee that he is coerced into involving himself in the black market by former, less-successful associates who would otherwise reveal "some stories about the good old days". Even when they look to the future; these people are drawn to past events. Mickie and Danny, driving to Danny's apartment to make love, talk about their "first time". Maura, attempting to run away to a new life away from the father she despises finds a picture of her high school graduation . And eventually we learn that the bloody events in the restaurant are carried out in a way to blot out the past. This is beautifully written, atmospheric and engrossing novel. It has certainly opened my eyes to the possibilities of the crime novel genre.
386 pages Orion Fiction