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Thursday, May 17, 2012

White Flame

James Grady
I randomly picked "White Flame" from the library shelf under "Detective Fiction G" among the few Grady novels. His short story "The Bottom Line" was the best entry in the anthology "DC Noir" and blew my mind, so I had quite a bit of expectation going into his novel. It was somewhat of a miss than a hit, unfortunately. The plot, theme, and characters have potentials that are ultimately underdeveloped.

The best part in the entire novel is a short scene between Male Lead #1 (an FBI agent with the very masculine name of Dalton Cole) and a woman of ill repute (or, using an old-fashioned phrase, "a fallen woman") in a cafe in rural Iowa. The dialogue crackled and popped. So much was hinted but unspoken. Again, Grady showed a weakness for the femme fetale, like he did in "The Bottom Line." Ah, too bad the fascinating "fallen woman" character and her storyline had a grand total of one scene in the entire book.

The second most interesting character in the novel is an alcoholic DC MPD cop with an uneasy relationship with his own whiteness. He is the least explored of the three lead investigators in the story. It is really a bit too crowded to have three "good guys" at the center, even if more realistic than the usual one or two. It doesn't help that the first two, who get nearly all the attention from the author, do not have the edge and seediness of the MPD cop.

All in all a fairly average thriller, except that, as a DC resident (transplanted from Montana decades ago), Grady does two things a little better than most white American writers: politics and race.

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