When TV presenter Maddie Gray's body is found dumped in gangland LA, the police arrest a young black man found at the scene with Maddie's ring in his pocket. For Nikki Hill, an ambitious Afro-American attorney, it is a make-or-break case.
Hardcover, 448 pages
March 1st 1999
by Grand Central Publishing
This is the complete review as it appears at my blog dedicated to reading, writing (no 'rithmatic!), movies, & TV. Blog reviews often contain links which are not reproduced here, nor will updates or modifications to the blog review be replicated here. Graphic and children's novels reviewed on the blog will generally have some images from the book's interior, which are not reproduced here.
Note that I don't really do stars. To me a novel is either worth reading or it isn't. I can't rate a noveThis is the complete review as it appears at my blog dedicated to reading, writing (no 'rithmatic!), movies, & TV. Blog reviews often contain links which are not reproduced here, nor will updates or modifications to the blog review be replicated here. Graphic and children's novels reviewed on the blog will generally have some images from the book's interior, which are not reproduced here.
Note that I don't really do stars. To me a novel is either worth reading or it isn't. I can't rate a novel three-fifths worth reading! The only reason I've relented and started putting stars up there is to credit the good ones, which were being unfairly uncredited. So, all you'll ever see from me is a five-star or a one-star (since no stars isn't a rating, unfortunately).
I rated this novel WARTY!
WARNING! MAY CONTAIN UNHIDDEN SPOILERS! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Dick Lochte? Seriously? That sounds like a medical condition. I get that you don't get to chose the name you're given when you're born, but you do get to choose the name that goes on your novels. He didn't like Richard Lochte? Maybe he doesn't care. Maybe he thinks it's funny, but the problem with chanting "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" is that there have to be torpedoes in the first place....
So why do I get to make fun of a writer's name? Well, I get to do that because of the writing in this novel. At one point, at the start of chapter 30 on page 149, we learn that a character looks like Rock Hudson "in his healthier days". Now there are two ways of using that description. One was to go the AIDS reference route, the other was to simply say "looked like a younger Rock Hudson" - or even omit the reference altogether. It wasn't necessary to make an arguably derogatory reference, yet the writer chose purposefully to go that route. That's my justification.
Clearly this guy, who has published several crime thrillers of his own, was hired to "punch up" Darden's writing since he's less of a novelist than he is the prosecuting counsel in the disastrous OJ Simpson murder trial. I read his In Contempt about that trial. I reviewed (unfavorably) Guilt by Degrees by his co-counsel, Marcia Clarke (whose Without a Doubt - about that same trial, I also read), so I figured it's only fair if I give him the same chance.
I have to say I wasn't favorably impressed by the first two pages (numbered 5 & 6, not 1 & 2 for some reason. I guess that numbering scheme is because there was a prologue, which I skipped as I usually do. If the writer thinks it's not worth putting in chapter one or later, I don't think it's worth reading.
So what didn't impress me? The rampant racism shown by the main character on the first two pages. She uses the term 'white-bread' on the first page and describes a murder victim as "whiter than rice" on the next page. There was absolutely no need to go there for either of these comments. She didn't know at that point that this was a murder victim, but this doesn't excuse unrestrained racism on two consecutive pages.
The black and white references are rampant in this novel, even when it's clearly quite unnecessary to reference what race the character is. I started to wonder if there was some abolitionist throw-back going on here, since when the character was identified as black or "Afro-American" or whatever, it always seemed to be a character who was employed in a subservient role - a security guard for example - someone who serves someone else. It made no difference what color the person was, so why specifically reference it?
Yes I get that there are real racists in society and that therefore it's fine to represent them in your novels if your plot or even verisimilitude requires it, but that's an entirely different thing than having your main character routinely espouse racist phrases. If a white writer had written these same kinds of derogatory phrases about a black person, they would have been called on it and rightly so. So why isn't anyone calling Darden on it? Or Lochte, whichever of the two of them came up with this?
There was also genderism here, and this was by the author, not the characters. The authors reference all female characters by their first name, all male characters by their last - like an abusive private school. Why? I have no idea, but genderism, like racism, cuts both ways. Just like it's not only whites who can be racist, it's also not only men who can be genderist, and it's not always in obvious ways that genderism rears its ugly head as we see here.
The way to fix a problem - like racism, and like male chauvinism - which has been characterized by the pendulum of justice swinging way-the-hell too far in one direction - isn't to force it to swing an equal amount in the opposite direction, it's to nail it dead in the middle and never let it move again.
I suspect this is more a Lochte novel with input from Darden than it is a Darden novel with guidance from Lochte, but that's just a guess. Since I've never read a Lochte novel I have no comparison to make - it's just a feeling I get from the way this is worded - and wordy it is. You could skip the first four chapters and not miss anything, and this same text-stuffing was rife throughout this novel (at least as far as I could stand to read it.
I wanted to read this because of the police investigation, to follow how the crime was solved, not because I wanted a detailed report of the main character's social life. I took to skipping chapters where the 'action' had nothing to do with the case - and that was a lot of chapters. This begs the question, of course, as to how to rate the writing where you deem only certain examples of it readable, and find yourself constantly irritated by the endless digressions. Is it worthy because of the crime story, or is it warty because of the mindless and pointlessly trivial babble?
Chapter one is pretty much all about how the main character, Nikki Hill (Nikki Heat rip-off, much?) getting out of bed, and the life history of her dog (I kid you not). Barf. Chapter two I had to go back and look at because I'd forgotten it by the time I reached chapter eight already. It's Hill's bad history over a case where evidence was mishandled. Objection: irrelevant, your honor. Chapters three and four are a pointless look at the limp interrogation of the guy who is the prime suspect - so we know for a fact that he didn't do it. It contributes nothing to the novel. Five and six are a look at the crime scene, so you may as well start there. You'll miss nothing.
This is your typical celebrity murder with lowlife suspect who's innocent story. TV personality Maddie Gray is found murdered and dumped in a dumpster. Jamal Deschamps is found close by with her ring in his pocket - yet later we're expected to believe she wore no jewelry! Naturally he's arrested despite the fact that other than his theft and failure to report a dead body, there's no evidence he committed any such thing as murder.
This marks the first failure of the enjoyable part of this novel - the murder investigation. We, the readers, know that Jamal is innocent, but the detectives are supposedly convinced that he's the perp, yet despite the fact that they're running out of time for holding him without charging him, they never once charge him with theft (of that ring) or of interfering with a crime scene, or failure to report the murder. They could have easily nailed him on something and held him longer, but they never even consider it. Bad writing. They also end up opening themselves up to a lawsuit for wrongful arrest because of this. These people are morons.
Given that a prosecutor was at least involved in writing this, I expected that procedures would be spot on, but there are failures all along, and this is what tipped the balance for me. For example, at one point we learn that the murder victim's computer is still in her house - the police never seized it, which means an assistant to the victim can get on it and do whatever he wants. Bad writing.
In another instance, they get a report of a car seen in the vicinity of the murder at about the time of the murder, and the first thing they think of in trying to track it down is to contact car dealerships in the area? What they don't have a department of motor vehicles in LA?! Bad writing.
There's also a curious piece of writing when discussing Jewelry. Gold is referred to by karat with a 'K' whereas diamonds are referred to using carat with a 'C'. The fact is that while the term has a different meaning when used for gold than it does when used for gems, the spelling isn't fixed in stone, precious or otherwise. To suggest that the 'K' form can only be used for gold and the 'C' form for gem stones is nonsensical.
But the bottom line is the characters. While I found the crime story engaging to a certain extent (when it wasn't being interrupted with commercials for Nikki's private life), I found I had no interest whatsoever in any of the characters, least of all the main one. I found her to be a prosecutor who was completely without appeal, and I really didn't care whodunit. In the end, that was my objection, and coincidentally the only motive I needed to kill-off this novel....more
Christopher Allen Darden is an American lawyer, writer, lecturer and practicing attorney. He was a 15-year veteran of the Los Angeles County District Attorney, where he was assigned to the prosecution of O. J. Simpson. Darden gained fame during the O. J. Simpson murder case when he asked Simpson to try on the once-blood-soaked gloves.