Before I read it, I saw a description of START SHOOTING that termed it “cop noir.” Cool, I thought, count me in. I love cop stories, especially those that are somewhat dark.
In START SHOOTING, though, Newton takes dark to new depths.
His first character, the grand and spectacular city of Chicago, is decidedly shadowy in this tale. Even Wrigleyville, which the last time I was there bordered on cute, is more than a bit dim. With two narrators—cop Bobby Vargas and waitress-while-awaiting-big-break-as-actress Arlene Brennan—START SHOOTING could have been convoluted or difficult to follow, but it is neither.
The story takes place over a compact timeframe, and builds numerous sub-plots to a thrilling and masterful conclusion. One of these tales, the rape and murder of Arlene’s sister many years ago, resurfaces in the midst of Bobby’s involvement in a drugs-and-murder case that is far more than it first appears. Add to these Bobby’s brother, also a cop who just might be evil personified, a production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a raucous group of lesbians who play rugby, and Chicago’s bid for Olympic glory…
Wait…hang on…so the crime is an old rape and murder? What do drugs have to do with anything? And the Olympics? Rugby? Huh?
Here’s the thing: I can’t outline this story for you without spoiling it completely. I can, however, tell you that it is as dark and graphic as it is tender and touching. It doesn’t shy from the complexities that I have no doubt cops face on the street daily. Nor does it put away the guns; true to its title, there is plenty of shooting and even some dying.
Since I finished reading it, I’ve had a couple of discussions with myself about which character was actually the primary, and I’ve concluded that Newton has achieved that ever-rare balance that means there isn’t just one primary character. Each of the interwoven tales presents multiple perspectives, and there aren’t any clear good or bad guys until the very end, and not even really then. The story is told through shades of gray, and it works beautifully.
If I have a criticism of START SHOOTING, it is that I found the twist that sets up the end of the story a bit far-fetched. But that said, Newton is a heckuva smart guy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s one of those things that sounds unrealistic to this average Jane, but is actually completely plausible.
I can’t remember the last time I wanted to a book to be longer. Most novels these days I place at anywhere from 50 to 200 pages too long. START SHOOTING, however, could have gone on for another 200 and I would not have complained. It was that much fun to read.
Author’s Website: www.charlienewton.com
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