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“It is ideas, not best interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.” - John Maynard Keynes wrote that.
It’s what fuels Streets Afire and Birmingham police sergeant Ben Wellman through the sticky heat and hatred of Bull Connor’s 1963 summer. Oddly, my iPod spontaneously and mystically chose to play George Winston’s lyrically sweet Daughter’s and Sons as Ray Chase quietly read this complex novel’s closing feeling. It’s not skipped to a song before at a book’s end.
Did the device sense my feelings? This novel, masquerading as a clever magnetic mystery/murder/procedural tale is in fact a compelling masterpiece of mood. It murmurs a group memory… like a fading snapshot… of that grainy-TV- screen summer Americans share of a time, a year, a summer, and a moment when we awoke to an idea, not best interest, which was dangerous… for good.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
I had never read anything by Thomas Cook before. He has won awards in the mystery/thriller genre, and it's easy to see why. Also, I had never heard of Ray Chase. If it is possible to be better than brilliant (in caps!), then Mr. Chase is that. The book is set in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. Racial tensions had not been this high since the Civil War. The rape and murder of a twelve-year-old black girl sets up the plot. Sgt. Ben Wellman of the BPD is assigned to the case, and he brings to it a ferocious determination. Mr. Chase's range and variety of voices, accents and nuance is absolutely astonishing. You can almost believe that there are about a dozen actors in this play. This is the time when Dr. King was building his power base, and white Southerners (not all of them, to be sure) were scared and outraged down to their very bootlaces. This was the moment when the fire department turned powerful hoses on completely peaceful marchers. It almost seems like this all happened in another country. In five years both Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy would be assassinated.
Ben feels intense heat from all directions, even (and particularly dangerously) from within his own police department. Many people from many segments of the community do not want Ben to solve the murder of Doreen Bollinger. Ben tries to get to know the girl's aunt Esther, but even such an apparently innocent contact is fraught with peril and suspicion from both whites and blacks. Ben feels pressured from all sides, and he is like a bug under a microscope, every move examined to the nth degree by everyone in town, or so he feels. The plot drives us so powerfully that I wouldn't recommend reading this just before you go to sleep, seriously. I hardly ever say that. In this case, the book can keep you reading well into the wee hours, and it can mess up your day at work. At the same time, I never wanted it to end. On a personal note, I was in Nashville during this time, at Vanderbilt. The most bizarre sight I have ever witnessed was the day after Dr. King's murder, when US Army tanks (!) rolled down West End Avenue, the long edge of the campus. Vanderbilt at the time was a hotbed of complacency, and it may still be. Black students numbered in the few dozens. What did they expect, an explosive race riot?
Enough about me. Get this book right now. Anyone who truly loves this genre, and has some feelings about racial conflicts in this country, will be so engrossed in the book that he or she might miss a few meals.
38 of 44 people found this review helpful