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.
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao live: Mayweather puts on defensive masterclass to win by unanimous decision
- 4 Floyd Mayweather's mouthguard costs $25,000 - enough to fly to Las Vegas and back 18 times
- 5 Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
Daredevil, Netflix, TV review: Marvel wins first fight in bid for television domination with Charlie Cox's superhero vigilante
Grace Dent on TV: Peter Kay's Car Share made me genuinely LOL
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
The highly NSFW poster for Gaspar Noé's Love makes Nymphomaniac look like 50 Shades
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
Indonesia executions live: 'Hysterical' families heard prisoners being shot dead by firing squad
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns