Monday, December 19, 2022

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2022,
Part IV: Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller was a regular contributor to Mystery News, writing the “In the Beginning” column about new crime-fiction writers for several years. He has also penned posts for The Rap Sheet and reviews for January Magazine. Originally from Central Ohio, Miller now makes his home in Massachusetts with his wife, Leslie, and spends his days as an independent consultant in the insurance industry and as an on-air host at public radio station WICN-FM.

Heat 2, by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner (Morrow):

I’m one of those people who consistently rolls his eyes whenever he hears the word “prequel”. Even though I have been pleasantly surprised from time to time (Exhibit A: AMC-TV’s Better Call Saul), I always consider this to be an especially heavy lift. That was certainly the way I felt when I learned that Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner would be releasing Heat 2, based on the best heist movie of all time.

In fact, Heat 2 is a prequel and a sequel. Mann and Gardiner toggle between what occurred before the action of the 1995 film as well as what came after. Readers see inside the Neil McCauley crew, the scores they took down in Chicago before arriving in Los Angeles, as well as what became of thief Chris Shiherlis (played by Val Kilmer), the only principal character—SPOILER ALERT!—who survived the end of the iconic film.

Shiherlis, consumed with guilt and anger over the demise of his partner McCauley, and vowing revenge upon LAPD Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), has been spirited out of L.A. to the ultimate free-trade zone of South America, working for a Taiwanese crime syndicate, and ultimately joining an international cartel that extends to Asia.

Running parallel to this is the backstory of not only the McCauley gang, but also of Vincent Hanna, the obsessed hunter of robbery crews. We learn about his origins in Chicago and his pursuit of one particularly sadistic gang, which specializes in breaking into affluent homes while their residents are sure to be present.

This novel has much to recommend it, the most impressive component being how Mann and Gardiner are able to revisit and inhabit the characters created for a single film nearly three decades ago. The cadences of Hanna’s dialogue sound just like Pacino’s rhythm in the movie, and the novel’s set pieces can easily be visualized with Mann’s signature directorial haze-and-darkness style. Supporting characters such as those played in the picture by Danny Trejo and Jon Voight are on hand. You wouldn’t ever want to run into those characters in a darkened alley, or inside a bank, but from the safety of your favorite reading chair, it’s fun to reconnect.

The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and Their Creators, by Martin Edwards (Collins Crime Club):

The current renaissance in classic detective fiction owes a great deal to British author Martin Edwards. In addition to being a first-rate novelist and short story writer, Edwards is president of the Detection Club, a frequent anthologist, and the creator of some of the most noteworthy crime-fiction historical documents of recent years. The Golden Age of Murder won him a trophy case full of awards following its publication in 2015. Howdunit, his master class in mystery construction, was warmly received in 2020. Now comes the culmination of decades of writing and reading: The Life of Crime.

Dipping into this book can be a bit intimidating. At more than 600 pages long (not including its bibliography and indices), and spanning 55 chapters, the breadth and depth of the work is staggering. It seems that no one of significance has escaped Edwards’ attention and erudition. Covering English, American, and international authors, books and themes, The Life of Crime is both an exhilarating survey course and a graduate-level seminar in the genre. And yet, despite its length and level of detail, the book is immensely readable. By taking the reader’s hand in his collegial style, Edwards almost lets you believe it was you who discovered such bygone writers as Frank Froest and Anthony Wynne (the latter being a Scottish enthusiast of the locked-room mystery—a specialty of this book). While there are some readers, I suppose, who will tackle The Life of Crime cover to cover as they would a novel, I preferred to consume a handful of chapters a week as an appetizer to whatever else I was enjoying. This allowed me to remember that crime fiction is a continuum, stretching from the past to today. By conveying its treasures in such delightful fashion, Edwards guarantees his book’s place in the pantheon of popular-culture historical works.

Other 2022 Favorites: An Honest Living, by Dwyer Murphy (Viking); and Dangerous Rhythms: Jazz and the Underworld, by T.J. English (Morrow).

No comments: