Having written only two books, Richard Hawke already has earned himself a place on the "must read" list of detective fiction fans. SPEAK OF THE DEVIL introduced Fritz Malone, a very different (and memorable) private investigator whose territory is New York City. It must be noted that Hawke doesn't write straightforward crime novels; to say that he deconstructs the genre would be inaccurate, but he certainly stretches and tests its boundaries. The result is an implicitly edgy narrative that creates an atmosphere in which anything might happen.
COLD DAY IN HELL centers on Marshall Fox, a wildly popular late-night television personality whose professional and personal life is fodder for daily morning water cooler discussion. The fact that Fox is a bit of a rake only fuels his reputation. But when two women who are linked to him are found brutally slain in a unique, sinister fashion, he is charged with their murder. The trial is, as one might expect, a circus --- it is even referred to as "O.J. East" --- and the testimony of Robin Burrell, one of Fox's many ex-lovers, regarding his points of arousal only serves to further inflame the rabble. Burrell, who happens to live across the street from Malone's significant other, retains Malone to deal with the avalanche of harassing mail and phone calls she receives.
When Burrell herself is murdered in a fashion similar to those for whom Fox is on trial, it raises the issue of whether Burrell has been executed by a copycat killer or if the D.A.'s office is trying the wrong man for murder. Malone is working with Megan Lamb, an emotionally troubled New York police detective assigned to the investigation. They begin digging into Fox's life and discover no lack of suspects or motives for any of the killings. When yet another brutal murder occurs --- similar but not identical to the first three --- Malone comes to the realization that knowing Fox is dangerous, and investigating the murders of his associates might be even more so.
Hawke is not afraid to take chances with his plot or characters. I about dropped the book at the end of Part 1 and then again near the violent climax of this exciting work. Hawke's ability to tinker with the form of his narrative while keeping the story true to the genre results in a unique, and ultimately addictive, reading experience. Pick up COLD DAY IN HELL and prepare to lose your preconceived ideas of what a detective novel can be.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 27, 2010