In White Heat, former Navy SEAL turned PI Duke Rogers makes a quick $250 dollars by locating the address of Teddie Matson, a burgeoning TV actress. A day later Matson is murdered, and Rogers, wrenched with guilt, sets out to find the killer. Set in L.A. during the riots following the Rodney King case, Rogers is beset on all sides by looters and gang bangers, stalkers and criminals, grieving families and damsels in distress, fires and bullets. But it is Rogers’s conscience that proves to be the biggest obstacle. Occasionally calling on the assistance of Jack, a racist/xenophobic ex-SEAL who is eerily likable, Rogers is a formidable hero and more than interesting enough to carry a series. No spoilers here, but I liked the ending precisely because every narrative thread was not neatly tied up, and yet, in the vivid, hard-boiled world Marks has created, justice is served.
White Heat won the Shamus Award for Best Indie PI novel in 2013, and I certainly see why. There are several elements to this book that make it more than just the run-of-the-mill private dick story. Exhibit A: the fantastic descriptions of Los Angeles. Having been to L.A. a total of once, most of my ideas about La-La Land come from TV, movies, and books. Marks does a remarkable job of portraying a city in crisis, a portrayal, I might add, that is more vivid than Raymond Chandler’s L.A. and more realistic and complex than James Ellroy’s. (Note: I love both of those writers and their books). Exhibit B: the palpable tension running through the narrative. Stalking is a big theme in this book, and as I read, I felt the fear, anxiety, and paranoia gripping me. Throughout the novel, there are italicized sections of inner monologue that serve to put the reader inside Rogers’s head and in the belly of the riots. Exhibit C: the commentary on race. It’s damned hard to successfully weave social and/or political commentary into a novel without coming off as preachy, but Marks pulls it off.
Bottom line, I’ve come up with a simple question for determining if a book is really good or not: how many hours of work and/or sleep did you lose because you couldn’t stop reading? Let’s just say I have a stack of ungraded essays on my desk, and my eyelids are very heavy. Cheers to the author of White Heat for that.
P.S.–Check the author’s blog linked below. Love his thoughts on old noir films.