STREETS OF FIRE by Thomas H. Cook


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Southern-born Cook is no stranger to Alabamian policemen (Flesh and Blood, Blood Innocents) and here creates honest, thoughtful Birmingham cop Ben Wellman, who in May of '63--while most of the force, the guard, the fire department, and the politicians are determined to keep Dr. King and the civil-rights demonstrators away from city hall--is assigned the murder/rape of a little girl in the (black) Bearwatch district. Employing the nonshowy, stodgy, but persistent type of police-work rarely devoted to the nonwhite cases, Wellman riles the Black Cat Boys--strongarm cops who usually patrol the district--his superiors, odd-matched partners Daniels and Breedlove (one's a racist, the other an FBI Informer), and Bearwatch kingpin (whores, drugs, pool hall) Roy Jolly and his muscle, Gaylord, in an attempt to match a gaudy, oversize ring found on the battered young Doreen with a suspect. Clues lead to retarded giant Bluto, who lives in a storm drain (where he's killed). Doreen's employers, the bigoted Davenports, insist that the girl was driven home, but a witness demurs, setting up the Black Cat Boys, whose secret room is a white supremacist's temple. Meanwhile, partner Breedlove is murdered; the cops are getting meaner with the demonstrators; and Wellman barely foils an assassinate-King plot before untangling why Doreen died. Well told until the ending, which--in typical Cook hyperbolic, out-of-left-field fashion--undermines what preceded it. However, Wellman's emerging racial consciousness, the tension between the rank-and-file cops/firemen and the redneck chiefs, the doomed relationship between a white officer and a black woman, and the one that never quite starts between Wellman and Doreen's aunt, are powerful and moving. It only Cook could restrain his penchant for pulp-fiction, tumultuous wrap-ups. . .

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 1989
Publisher: Putnam