As I write this review it is January 2006, but already I have found what probably will be one of my ten favorite books of the year. SPEAK OF THE DEVIL easily passes "The Richard Smith Test," in which you ask yourself, "If this book/song/film was created by (insert the name of any author/musician/actor here) would I still like it?" The answer, in the case of Richard Hawke's debut novel, is a resounding yes.
SPEAK OF THE DEVIL introduces Fritz Malone, a private investigator with a background full of more questions than answers. We learn that he is the illegitimate son of a former New York City police commissioner; the active partner in a P.I. firm started by Charlie Burke; and the lover of Margo Burke, Charlie's daughter. Yet there is a significant backstory to Malone with all of these elements. Malone's father mysteriously disappeared several years ago; Charlie is wheelchair-bound, for reasons not revealed; and there is a woman in Malone's past who is the bartender at Charlie's union hall. There is enough mystery surrounding Malone to launch several novels, and I think that is by Hawke's design. But SPEAK OF THE DEVIL is far more than a character study. It is a strong, compelling noir mystery that grabs the reader from page one.
That page concerns the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is brought to an abrupt halt when a spectator opens fire, killing several people apparently at random. Malone aids in the apprehension of the shooter, but he finds himself taken into mysterious custody. Things become even more confusing when the perpetrator dies while in police custody. It develops that the shooting was part of a plot to extort an exorbitant ransom from the City of New York. Due to his involvement at the parade scene, Malone initially is retained by the mayor to get to the bottom of the scheme. He discovers, however, that there is much more going on here than extortion; there are elements of revenge and jealousy that has its origin point back across decades and that involves crimes against the innocent as well as flagrant abuses of power.
Hawke does not limit Malone's stomping grounds to one section of the city --- at times SPEAK OF THE DEVIL reads like the most entertaining travelogue you'll ever encounter --- so ultimately Hawke is involved in a race against time and across space to rescue the city, as well as those who mean the most to him.
SPEAK OF THE DEVIL is obviously --- hopefully --- set up to be the first of many works featuring Malone and company, and its sequel cannot arrive too soon. This is an auspicious debut by a brilliant new voice.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011