Monday, 24 September 2018
PAUL D. MARKS - WHITE HEAT (2012)
Winner of the 2013 Shamus Award for Best Indie P.I. Novel!
P.I. Duke Rogers finds himself in a combustible situation in this racially charged thriller. His case might have to wait…
The immediate problem: getting out of South Central Los Angeles in one piece during the 1992 “Rodney King” riots and that’s just the beginning of his problems.
Duke finds an old “friend” for a client. The client’s “friend,” an up and coming African-American actress, ends up dead. Duke knows his client did it. Feeling guilty that he inadvertently helped the killer find the victim, he wants to track down the client/killer. He starts his mission by going to the dead actress’ family in South Central L.A.—and while there the “Rodney King” riots ignite.
While Duke searches for the killer he must also deal with the racism of his partner, Jack, and from Warren, the murder victim’s brother, who is a mirror image of Jack in that department. He must also confront his own possible latent racism—even as he’s in an interracial relationship with the dead woman’s sister.
Praise for WHITE HEAT:
“…taut crime yarn set in 1992 against the turmoil of the Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of the police officers charged with assaulting motorist Rodney King…. the author ably evokes the chaos that erupted after the Rodney King verdict.” —Publishers Weekly
A step back in time with White Heat to the Los Angeles riots of 1992 after the verdict in the Rodney King case comes in. PI Duke Rogers is troubled by the death of a black actress, Teddie Matson the day after he had provided her address to a client. Feeling complicit in her murder he tries to trace the guy, while LA explodes around him.
It's an interesting book on many levels. There's the historical reporting on an event which made news worldwide and highlighted the issues America has with race. Marks really brings the time alive with his character Rogers, trapped in a black part of town when the city ignites. Anger, resentment, suspicion, injustice, violence, a mob mentality, fear, rage, payback and opportunity with the best and worst of humanity on display in the tinderbox that was South Central LA in 1992. In the immediacy of the riot we see the decency of ordinary people as Duke Rogers is shepherded to safety initially by a black man, Tiny and subsequently the murder victim's sister, Rita.
There's also a closer examination of race, particularly as Rogers embarks on a relationship with Rita, an event they try and conceal from her family. Inter-racial romances can be problematic at the best of times, but especially set against such a back drop. There's also some dishonesty within the relationship as Duke conceals his part in Teddie's murder from Rita.
We see the race issue from both sides. Duke's friend Jack is extremely blunt and forthright regarding the situation in LA - shoot the looters, the verdict was correct, if King had acted like that with me, I'd have done the same, etc etc.... and from Warren Matson, Teddie and Rita's brother. Warren is a small time criminal, extremely angry over the death of his sister, well extremely angry full stop. He's threatening and violent towards Rogers and in his views is extremely distrustful, hostile and suspicious of white people and the system in general. It's interesting as the book and the story unfolds, how his attitude to Rogers gradually softens and he tries to help with his investigation.
Lastly, there's the investigation which is less than straightforward with our suspected murderer proving to be elusive. I really liked how this one was resolved. There's no real light bulb moment as such which points Duke in the right direction, just a solid doggedness and a slow unpicking of events; happenings, maybes, possibilities, dead-ends before we get on the right track. We have a similar tale of obsession, stalking and insane jealousy and more exposure to LA's cultural and racial make-up, as the case of a missing Hispanic woman provides a pointer towards our predator's identity.
I really liked this one; the depiction of a historic event in American history which I can recall happening at the time, albeit from afar; the race issue - with a presentation of attitudes and viewpoints and the reasoning presented for people harbouring polar opposite opinions with blanket mistrust and alienation, but Marks also offers a modicum of hope with actions where black and white look out for each other and work together.
The main character, Duke Rogers is also quite complex. There's a military background and issues with his father, who he feels he's continually disappointed with his life choices. He's a decent man and strives to correct a wrong over which he feels a strong sense of guilt. An interesting man without being a cliche of a PI.
Fantastic setting - I could almost smell the burning destruction as the city blazed, a decent plot, reasonable pace, a real sense of history with some social commentary, interesting characters and relationships, satisfying resolution and not too long. Ticks in every box.
4.5 from 5
White Heat was initially published in 2012 and won a 2013 Shamus Award. It has recently been republished by Down and Out Books. There's a second Duke Rogers novel which has not long dropped - Broken Windows - which I'm looking forward to reading.
Paul D. Marks has his website here.
Read in September, 2018
Published - 2012
Page count - 252
Source - review copy from publisher Down and Out Books
Format - ePub copy