Burning in the heat of an epic crime novel.
"Neil's mantra was split in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner".
Its release became the most long-awaited publishing event of the last five years and signified the first-time-ever involvement of a renowned auteur such as Michael Mann in the writing of a novel which would act both as a prequel and a sequel to his 1995 classic film Heat, starring a stellar cast including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight and Ashley Judd. Mann's collaboration with the acclaimed crime fiction author Meg Gardiner, whose thrillers often hit the bestseller lists, further added to the notoriety of the upcoming title and guaranteed top-notch quality as far as the writing style is concerned. The final result, coming under the title Heat 2, is an electrifying crime/thriller, packed with tons of action sequences reminiscent of those depicted on screen in the original movie. Some of the scenes of the film such as the legendary street combat between Neil McCauley's crew and LAPD armed officers marked cinema history and influenced the later productions of the genre. Moreover, the face-to-face meeting of Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley at Kate Mantilini on Wilshire Boulevard, the scene in which Robert De Niro and Al Pacino sat down and talked like two regular guys sharing their views on life and the world in general, has been widely debated as the two veteran actors donate human breath to their respective protagonists and the audience can't help but root for either of them and in some ways identify with their innermost thoughts and feelings as conveyed during their short discussion. It is the only instance in the film where Pacino and De Niro show up together with the exception of the finale in which Hanna shoots and kills McCauley, then shaking his hand in a kind of honoring farewell from a tormented soul to another one.
In the prologue, the authors provide a brief synopsis of the events that took place in the 1995 film and, in the process, they divulge some in-depth observations regarding the complex relationship between Hanna and McCauley. We read: "They (Hanna and McCauley) were the same in that both knew life was short, we are footprints in the beach until the tide comes in (...) Polar opposite in some ways, they were the same in taking in how the world worked, devoid of illusions and self-deception". Both in the film and the novel, it is clearly implied that Hanna holds McCauley in respect as he sees parts of himself in his adversary, despite McCauley's criminal disposition and history which began from his early childhood as we will learn while reading the novel. Their final handshake makes that respect palpable and in the first pages of the book, the authors write: "He (Hanna) took McCauley's hand through the paroxysms that carried him into death. They understood each other, as if they were the only two people in the planet. Alone, isolated within who theyt were, but only they knew how it all really worked". The movie's ending scene is backed by Moby's song "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters", adding a heroic aspect to the conclusion of a great crime epic and one of the most alluring action films of the 1990s. The prologue ends with McCauley's killing in LAX by Hanna and introduces the reader to the first timeline that begins in 1995 and spans the whole year and the following one, following the character of Chris Shiherlis, played in the movie by Val Kilmer, the only member of McCauley's crew who manages to get away, despite being severely injured during the battle that took place outside the bank in Los Angeles.
Shiherlis is unaware of McCauley's fate and gets taken care of Neil's fixer and middleman, Nate (Jon Voight), who arranges his escape from LA and his transport to a safe place, somewhere in South America, where Hanna and the officers of LAPD's RHD (Robbery-Homicide Division) will be unable to locate him. We should keep in mind that Shiherlis had shot and killed one of Hanna's colleagues, thus making the seasoned cop all the more eager to locate Chris and make him pay for his crimes. After the initial seven chapters, we are then transferred back in time and more specifically to 1998, the setting being no longer the shiny, crime-ravaged Los Angeles but Chicago where Hanna worked previously as a Sergeant in the Criminal Intelligence Division. Hanna is investigating a series of brutal home invasions committed by a group of thugs who torture and sexually assault the families living in the houses while robbing them blind. The viciousness of the crimes makes Hanna shiver and prompts him to cross the line during the inquiry, meaning doing things that are legally and ethically dubious in order to succeed in his goal. We read: "Both men knew Hanna, when he's impelled, when he has the scent and is zeroed in, crosses lines too, and it's not that Hanna runs red lights. It's that there cease to be lights, red or green (...) In that state Hanna commits no errors. Decision-making is smooth and instantaneous, It's magic. He's immaculate". The reader gets to know more about Hanna's idiosyncracy and temperament as well as some facts regarding his past that explain his present attitude and conduct both professionally and in his personal life. The authors stress his empathy toward the victims as becomes evident in his attempts to approach a teenage girl who got raped during one of the home invasions that Hanna investigates. At some point, he says: " I don't neutralize myself. Most homicide detectives stay abstract (...) I take it in. I use it. Personalize it to understand the victim, the perpetrator, the anger, the reasons. Keeps me sharp, on edge".
In the 1988 timeline, we also witness the beginning of the fiery relationship between Chris Shiherlis and the woman that would later become his wife and mother to his only son, Dominick, Charlene. The two of them meet in Las Vegas, a city that Chris often visits due to his gambling addiction that has caused him many problems throughout his life. It is love at first sight, unquestionably, and the two of them seem to share a unique type of understanding that renders their bond stronger and more mature. Mann and Gardiner employ the use of multiple perspective and the reader watches the intricate plot unfolding through the eyes of the protagonists (Hanna, Shiherlis, McCauley), but also as perceived by some of the secondary characters, even the villains. It should also be mentioned that the authors introduce one of the most stark and abominable antagonists in the crime fiction genre in the character of Otis Wardell, a sociopathic thief who enjoys torturing and causing mayhem in the lives of his victims, regardless of the necessity of it. Wardell is the textbook psychopath who commits evil deeds for the sake of them, something that is unimaginable to a high-stakes criminal such as McCauley who likes to organize his scores to the last detail, surveilling the target for a long time before proceeding to action. His attitude towards his line of business is this: "Save your crew. Save what you did it for. If anybody gets in your way, that is their problem". Despite his determination to take out every individual who would stand in his way, he is against torturing or killing someone without good reason. The audience will remember his rage toward Waingro, who botched the mini-van robbery in the beginning of the film. McCauley and Wardell's roads will intersect in some point in the novel and their clash will have tragic consequences for a woman whom Neil loves more than his own life.
The 1995/96 timeline covers Chris Shiherlis's time in Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, a weird city which is described by the authors in great detail as a paradise for smugglers and criminals of any kind. There, Chris will find himself working for a local Taiwanese tycoon and gangster who will slowly learn to appreciate Chris's instincts, intuition and decisiveness, features that will help him move up the ladder fast and become one of the boss's most trusted employees. Here, I have to highlight the fact that I found this plot strand to be the most confusing one, and there were times that I found myself reading and re-reading some of the paragraphs in order to grasp in its entirety what is going on and comprehend Chris's and Ana's schemes and plots that involve the trafficking of advanced technology, counter-intelligence equipment, and military-grade weaponry. Apart from that fact, the Paraguayan sub-plot succeeds the 1988 Chicago storyline and the Hanna versus Wardell strife that literally grounds the reader, making the difference all the more noticeable. The 1995/96 timeline feels like shifting a gear down in terms of pacing and prompted me to skim some of the pages near the end. The story moves forward rather slowly, with Shiherlis gradually gaining his employer's trust and embarking on a high-risk undercover mission that aims to sabotage the software of the rival gangster family. Chris will also become romantically entangled with the boss's daughter, Ana, and their relationship will prove to be a serious and strong one as we will see them together again in the third and final timeline of the novel, in 2000 in Los Angeles.
The 2000 timeline finds all the major players of the story assembled in the City of Angels, with Hanna going through a tough spot, popping Adderall in order to cope with the vast number of cases he has to deal with, while Chris and Ana return to LA in order to close a deal that will stabilize their position in the underground market of state-of-the-art military technology. Otis Wardell is also present, now a motel owner and high-end pimp who keeps terrorizing his underlings and becomes involved in the savage murder of a young immigrant sex worker who is found buried in a shallow grave in the city's outskirts. The case is investigated by Hanna, who, while examining the crime scene, becomes heavily interested in the modus operandi of the killer that is reminiscent of that used by Otis Wardell. Soon, a CCTV grainy video will prove his suspicions correct as he recognizes Wardell's figure as one of the men who are spotted leaving the location in which the murder took place in a car. Hanna has a score to settle with Wardell who 12 years earlier managed to escape capture to the copper's dismay. Now, the tough-as-nails Robbery-Homicide Lieutenant has the opportunity to lock Wardell up and offer peace to some of his victims that survived and had to live with the horrible memories and consequences of his home invasions and the murder of the people closest to them. Furthermore, Shiherlis, who is trying to keep his head down as he is still a wanted man in LA due to the events that took place five years earlier, will become obsessed with the idea of avenging his friend's, the "brother from a different mother" Neil McCauley, death, meaning that he will put Vincent Hanna under his radar, searching for a chance to kill him and restore an equilibrium in his soul. Chris will also be torn between his intimate feelings for Ana and the sense of duty toward Charlene and his only son, an inner conflict that is expertly disclosed to the reader by the authors' plausible descriptions of the character's inner thought process.
Heat 2 is a novel that is written in advanced English and the vocabulary is precocious, forcing me to stop reading many times in order to search in the dictionary for an unknown word. At least that's my impression as a non-native speaker. It is a rather lengthy novel and the story is divided into three distinct timelines (1988, 1995/96. 2000), spanning twelve years and constituting both a prequel (1988 timeline) and sequel (1995/16 and 2000) of the film which was released in 1995. Chris Shiherlis is definitely the main protagonist as he is the only character who appears in all three chronologies, unifying the expanding narrative that becomes more and more complex and multi-faceted as the reader keeps turning the pages. The 2000 timeline is the most striking one as it signals the conclusion of the story and features all the major characters in the same place at the same time. The last scene of the novel, with Hanna chasing Wardell by car in the streets of LA and with Shiherlis, at the same time, persecuting Hanna in order to take revenge over McCauley's death is breathtaking and covers many pages, with the point of view alternating between the protagonists from one paragraph to the next. As a result, the tempo becomes frenetic, reminiscent of that of the film's, and the finale is cathartic while leaving room for a possible sequel as it is apparent that the character arcs of Hanna and Shiherlis could be further explored. In Heat 2 their personal battle doesn't find its solution. It would be great to have a Heat 3 as in this novel, Michael Mann exhibited his talent in writing which equals his immense directing skills and it would be interesting to know if the action sequences were written by him. I am inclined to bet that they were. The reader becomes attuned to the tension and heat experienced by McCauley's crew before each score and empathizes with them despite their criminal acts, indicating the tremendous work done by the authors who breathe life to the characters, urging the reader to touch them with his mind. The collaboration between Mann and Gardiner is smooth and there is no way in which the reader can imagine that this is a novel written by two separate individuals. The prose is meticulous and consistent, the characterization parts are exceptional, conveying a truthful illustration of the story's protagonists, and the narrative style is indicative of an experienced and skillful work by an accomplished author.
There are some minor flaws such as the authors' almost obsessive persistence to describe the weather conditions and the color of the skies in the beginning of each chapter, something that becomes repetitive and a bit tiresome after a while. Furthermore, as I already mentioned above, there is an unevenness in the narrative as it contains come parts that are plainly less appealing to the reader than others. However, if one wants to formulate a concluding assessment regarding this novel, he or she would have to concede to the fact that it has been a truly long time since they have read such a fully-fleshed, elegant crime novel that can be deemed equal to the film in terms of quality, a feat that is nothing less than stunning. I began reading Heat 2, bearing in mind the faces and events of the movie and it was a nice change to be able to have a clear picture of the characters as most of them were also featured in Mann's 1995 classic. I would urge both the authors to continue this thrilling saga that has much to offer to the thirsty crime fiction readership which is fed up with the generic novels employing hackneyed tropes and featuring cardboard characters. It has been a long time since I'd stayed awake a whole night reading a novel and devouring each and every word of the rich text, basking the solid prose and goading my imagination to provide vivid images of the descriptions on page. I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for offering me a free ARC of this title in exchange of an honest review.