MURDER AT THE MET by David Black


Email this review


Black's subtitle--""Based on the exclusive accounts of Detectives Mike Struk and Jerry Giorgio of how they solved the Phantom of the Opera Case""--points to both the strength and weakness of this crime-investigation account. You'll get lots of inside police-procedural detail here, but you'll also get a narrow viewpoint, a monotonous tough-cop style (which Black seems to slather on artificially), and an inflated, fawning portrait of cops Mike and Jerry. The book starts badly, surprisingly so for those who know Black's classier work (The King of Fifth Avenue, Like Father)--with a tasteless, speculative reconstruction of the 1980 murder, on the Met Opera's backstage roof, of violinist Helen Mintiks. (""Helen's slap. . .may have brought to a boil years of simmering lust for every woman seen backstage in leotards, the fabric stretched pale over breasts and crotch. . ."") From there on, however, the focus is strictly on the NYPD's accumulation of clues, interviews, suspects, and alibis--while Black fills in some background on the two primary detectives (""Jerry was a Jimmy Valentine of emotion, able to pick almost any locked-up heart"") and attempts to pump up some petty Mike/Jerry rivalry into melodrama. The sleuthing quite soon leads to young stagehand Craig Crimmins; but the evidence--chiefly a fingerprint and a witness who saw Craig with Helen in an elevator--is thin. So the cops have to push for a confession, punching holes in Craig's shaky alibi. And the book's second half follows the case through pre-trial hearing and trial--centering on: the defense lawyer's nastiness; the question of confession admissibility; the cops' witness-stand tensions; and their fury over the tabloid press' pro-Craig coverage. (That quickly changed after conviction.) Black's novelistic approach tries too hard to derive a style from the cops' coarseness: ""Maybe, drunk and wild on wacky weed, Craig was pumping himself up all night, making himself so horny he was ready to shove his dick through a concrete wall?"" The issues are blurred; the phony drama obscures whatever real drama (slight, perhaps) the case had. But undemanding police-work fans will probably be satisfied by the gritty minutiae of interrogation/legwork and the imitation-Wambaugh theatrics.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1984
Publisher: Doubleday