Shooting At Midnight

by Greg Rucka

Published by Bantam Books

368 pages, 1999


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Pure Pulp for Now People

Reviewed by Kevin Burton Smith

 

Greg Rucka has been building a solid rep for himself as one of the hot young guns of crime fiction, with his series (Finder, Keeper, Smoker) about a quirky, but coolly professional bodyguard, Atticus Kodiak, and his motley assortment of eccentric friends. But his latest novel, Shooting At Midnight, cranks it up another notch. It's ambitious and audacious, hard and fast, an action-packed neo-pulp extravaganza that reads like a head-on collision between Trainspotting and the first Die Hard movie.

Not that this is just the literary equivalent of some special effects-laden piece of cinematic bloat. There's also a lot of heart in Shooting. The evocative and surprisingly tender prologue -- a series of vignettes that trace the hopes and dreams of a young teenage girl before reality and heroin addiction bring them all crashing down -- may be the single best thing Rucka has written yet, a sly intro to the hardcore thrills to follow. As one of the characters says, later in the book, "A tale will be told here." That's putting it mildly.

Shooting At Midnight walks a fine line. It's both a stand-alone work and, possibly, a pivotal book in the Atticus series. Its protagonist, Bridgett ("Bridie") Logan, first appeared in the Atticus stories as his on-again, off-again girlfriend (she refers to him here, somewhat mockingly, as "the Boy Scout"). But in this novel she proves she's more than able to step into the spotlight on her own. She's certainly hard to miss: a mouthy, feisty 6-foot-1 private eye with multi-colored hair, a nose-ring and a severe jones for hard candy, preferably LifeSavers. She's a hotshot op working for Agra and Donnovan Investigations, a Manhattan-based detective agency and she tools around the Big Apple in a fancy blue Porsche. She's fiercely independent and she refuses to bow down before anyone. Including Atticus, who eventually does make an appearance in this tale, playing the well-prepared voice of caution and reason to Bridgett's wild and idealistic impulsiveness. Yeah, Bridgett sounds like a bit of a cartoon at first, but Rucka collects the biographical bits and pieces of her life, hinted at throughout his earlier books, and reassembles them into an unflinching, kick-ass, hard-boiled tale which announces that he (and Bridgett) are more than ready to play in the big leagues. It's an awesome tour-de-force.

* * *

The hard-boiled mythos is rife with male-bonding epics, from Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key and Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye, right up to the current crop of wink-wink explosion fests/buddy flicks down at your local cineplex. In Shooting, it's the girls' turn, as Bridget risks it all to save her teenage friend Lisa Schoof, a former heroin addict, who's charged with murder.

Seems Lisa's gone straight, kicking her habit and struggling to get by, going to college, working as a stripper in one of those slimy pay-for-view private booth joints, and trying, as best she can, to do right by her young son Gabriel. When Vince Lark, her abusive former pimp, shows up, threatening Lisa and demanding money, she turns to Bridgett for help.

Now the kicker: Bridgett, like Lisa, is a recovering junkie.

Bridgett sets a plan in motion to help her friend, but when Vince turns up dead, Lisa is the number-one suspect. A far more dangerous game begins, as Bridgett goes undercover in a drug-smuggling ring, trying to dig up evidence -- or at least some kind of leverage -- to get her friend out from under a murder charge. She rubs shoulders with ruthless kingpins and FBI agents; vicious thugs and a DEA task force more concerned with results than justice; and, perhaps most frighteningly of all, her own heart of darkness.

Rucka paints his tale with broad, cinematic strokes, but he also does some fine detail work in this book. Here's Bridgett introducing Lisa to us:

She opened the door for me with one hand, her other pressing a dirty pink dish towel filled with ice to her bottom lip. Vince was a righty, and he'd worked with that fist almost exclusively. Lisa's left eye and cheek were swelling too. She was dressed in boxer shorts and a tank top, and best I could tell, Vince had contented himself with her face.

And he takes a similar matter-of-fact approach to Bridget's former addiction. No ham-fisted sermonizing, no ain't-it-cool heroin chic here. Rucka offers us the facts, ma'am, just the facts. And they're more than enough. The book pivots on one question: How far would you go to save a friend? How much would you risk?

In Bridie's case, the answer to that second question is simple:

Everything.

* * *

Though still not 30 years old, Oregon resident Rucka has already been a theatrical fight choreographer and an emergency medical technician, and is currently making his mark in two separate but parallel writing careers. Besides novels, he's been attracting a lot of attention for his comic book work, including Whiteout, an acclaimed mini-series and, most recently, as the new writer for the flagship Batman series, Detective Comics. He's also got a hardcover prose novel coming out in January, entitled Batman: No Man's Land.

Like other hard-boiled crime writers who straddle the comics/"real" books line (Max Allan Collins and Andrew Vachss come to mind), Rucka brings a bold energy to his plotting and a certain larger-than-life quality to his characters. It's a style that can descend into parody, or it can deliver the goods with an almost physical force. With Shooting At Midnight, Rucka delivers.

The book is a harrowing read at times and more than one plot twist will leave you gasping for breath at Rucka's fierce vision. This is the real deal, pulp for the new millennium, smart and entertaining, and bound to stir things up in a literary genre that, despite the claims of its aficionados, sometimes seems as comfy and mannered as the world of cozy mysteries they sneer at. Rucka's characters are defiant and unapologetic, and his prose is as right-in-your-face as this little exchange between Lisa and Bridgett:

"Not everybody's as tough as you are, Bridgett."

"What the fuck do you mean by that?"

Rucka's offering you a hard-boiled fix you won't soon forget.

As a literary antecedent of Bridgett's, another junkie private eye who had his own dance with Mr. Jones, once said, "Quick, Watson, the needle!" | October 1999

 

KEVIN BURTON SMITH is the creator and editor of The Thrilling Detective Web Site, which is devoted to the appreciation of fictional private eyes -- hard-boiled and otherwise -- in literature, film, television and other media.