"...those who enjoy the darker side of the genre are in for some serious thrills with this..."
Laura Wilson, The Guardian
Published in the UK by Polygon (March 19th, '09) and in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Nov '09).
winter and night by s. j. rozan
Reviewed by Jochem Vandersteen
April 20, 1999. The day that, because of the violent actions of two students called Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold a small town called Littleton became as mythic a place as Waterloo, Waco, Tsjernobyl or Dunkirk. In S.J. Rozan’s latest novel Winter and Night Warrenstown almost joins this illustrious list of places.
Bill Smith, the male P.I. of Rozan’s "Bill Smith & Lydia Chin" mystery series gets an unexpected call from the NYPD. His nephew’s been arrested. Smith helps out the kid, who disappears shortly thereafter. His search for the boy takes him to Warrenstown. Stepping into Warrenstown is almost like setting foot in Tombstone or some other corrupt western town ruled by the powerful. Or to stay within noir territory like stepping into the town of Poisonville where the famous Continental Op cleaned up in Red Harvest. In Warrenstown the jocks rule.
During his stay in Warrenstown Bill unravels the mysteries of a decades old murder and an eerily similar new one, faces gunrunners and drug dealers and has to come to terms with his own dark past and feelings of anger.
We are treated to a host of fully realized characters. Rozan excels in describing these people with just a few words, bringing them alive in your head. She, for instance instantly made me like Stacie Phillips, a young female reporter with the following description: "She wore wide-legged jeans, a pink tee shirt with long white sleeves, a gray hooded sweatshirt she unzipped and pulled off as she sat. "I’ll have some coffee," she told the waiter, smiling, and he smiled too…" Note how the waiter smiles back and the bright clothes she wears. You immediately peg this girl for a feisty, yet sweet kid.
In Littleton, violent movies and Marilyn Manson got some of the blame. This novel touches these explanations partly. Although a comic book figure (the Manson of the story you could say) called Premador serves as an alias for the Eric/Dylan character in the novel we also see where the real pressure comes from, what makes him cross the line of fantasy into reality. From my own experience I know how it feels to be in the unpopular group as a kid, but the adults in my neighborhood were behind me. In Warrenstown the jocks are allowed to rule by the adults. Warrenstown is a world where sports are more imported than anything. Time and again in the history of the town this creates tensions with violent endings.
There are a lot of other parts to be found that refer to the Columbine shooting, such as jocks calling the killers "Freaks" and telling about how they didn’t fit in. The character of Bill Smith’s nephew is a dead ringer for Dustin Gorton, the jock who was friends with Harris and Klebold. In some places the Littleton massacre is mentioned by name. However, the story never reads like a rehash of those events, nor does it feel like the writer’s cashing in on a tragedy that still has everyone talking.
The novel owes its title to a poem by William Blake, however it could also get its name from the descriptions of weather and places Rozan does so well. These descriptions never take away the rapid pace of the story and add to the mood of every scene. Scenes like those will put S.J. Rozan up there with Lawrence Block as a "writer’s writer".
The action is described in an almost movie-like manner and one of the scenes played out like a movie in my mind with Dolby Surround. Just read this- "It came from everywhere and it came in beautiful slow motion. I heard each crashing report separately, distinctly, saw each shooter aim, squeeze off every shot…"
Rozan again pulls of the amazing feat of writing from a male character’s point of view with amazing accuracy Smith feels every bit as real as Lydia Chin. As a writer myself I know how hard this can be.
There’s some minor annoyances in the novel, like the over extensive use of cellphones, a few plotlines that seem to dangle a bit too much in the end, but overall Winter and Night deserves its Edgar award and Shamus, Anthony, and Macavity nominations. Dennis Lehane and Robert Crais express their admiration for Rozan on the book’s cover, and hopefully will give her the extra boost she needs.
Whether you used to be a jock, a freak or a stoner there’s a lot to enjoy in this novel.
Copyright© 2003 Jochem Vandersteen
JOCHEM VANDERSTEEN has been writing all his life. With the Internet he found a chance to share his work with the rest of the world. His main influences include the old guys like Hammett and Chandler as well as newer writers like Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane. He's also a big fan of alternative rock and comic books, which explain a lot of the pop culture references in his work. His work has appeared in Thrilling Detective, Nefarious, Judas and Hardluck Stories. His first novel White Knight Syndrome is available now! Everyone who's got something to say to him is encouraged to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his site at http://members.tripod.com/~shforum/noahmilano.htm.
Read an extract from Jochem's novel White Knight Syndrome