BOOK REVIEW / A landscape of pimps and police: Cold shoulder - Lynda la Plante: Macmillan, pounds 14.99: Sarah Dunant finds drama and charisma in the new thriller by Lynda la Plante
Saturday 24 September 1994
Cold Shoulder is her third thriller and it will, no doubt, like the others, be a best-seller. Set in and around Los Angeles, it tells the story of Lorraine Page, a tough woman cop who hits Skid Row after her partner dies and she takes to the bottle, killing an unarmed black kid on the streets.
After a vicious descent into an alcoholic hooker's hell she sets out to go straight, at the same time finding herself drawn into a cycle of serial murders as a witness (and almost a potential victim) who doesn't want to go the police. Her journey to track down the killer becomes the journey by which she also rebuilds herself.
It is, in many ways, familiar La Plante territory. Despite the West Coast setting, its landscape of police interrogation rooms, pimps, pornography, transvestites and blackmail could easily be that of Prime Suspect, where a number of those ingredients tend to be present. That much is forgiveable. It is, however, less easy to overlook the faults in the story.
In structural terms, the opening 20 pages of the novel, which recapitulate Page's broken marriage and descent into hell, read more like a false start than a strong beginning And the plot, at first glance a complex snail-trail of leads and double loops, actually turns out to be dependent on an alarming number of coincidences. Our heroine just happens to meet at least four of the central players in the story while getting her biggest 'clue' from a completely unconnected one-off visit to her ex-husband's home. As Oscar Wilde might have said, to have one coincidence is destiny, to have five or six is plain lazy.
Cold Shoulder is at its best when La Plante is on the firm dramatic ground of police interrogations and the struggles of a desperate woman to get off the bottle. She is also good on the difficult, often aggressive friendship which her heroine builds up with another ex-alcoholic, Rosie. It is at times like this that you can almost hear Helen Mirren's voice, giving the book and its central character both strength and charisma.
She is much less successful on love. Given that she is usually so powerfully unsentimental, the arrival (coincidence again) of the gorgeous, well-endowed, millionaire ladies' man, Brad Thorson, is a severe disappointment. It may be that blockbuster thrillers need sex, but it brings with it not only some of the most cliched writing in the book - 'His arms tightened around her, until her weeping subsided and she lifted her lips to him. This time, his kiss was not gentle but passionate, hard and crushing, and she responded' - but also a lingering sense of emotional dishonesty.
In comparison with the average thriller, these problems still don't make Cold Shoulder a bad book. But, given Lynda La Plante's obvious talent as a popular writer, it should have been a much better one.
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Isis 'jihadi bride' claims forced sex with Yazidi girls is never rape because Koran condones it
- 2 Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
- 3 Woman accidentally shoots herself in the head while posing for a selfie
- 4 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 5 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
Eurovision 2015: Graham Norton returns with another cutting commentary - his best lines
Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Eurovision 2015: Estonia seemingly enters Louis Tomlinson from One Direction
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland