Monday, July 7, 2014

All Day and a Night - Alafair Burke
First line: "What would people think if they could overhear their own conversations?"

Alafair Burke returns to her Ellie Hatcher series in her tenth novel. All Day and a Night marks the fifth outing for Ellie and crew and it's a whopper.

A psychologist is murdered using the same signature as Anthony Amaro, a serial killer sitting in jail, and questions arise as to the convicted man's guilt. On the defense's side, celebrity attorney Linda Moreland kicks into gear to not only prove Amaro's innocence but to prove police corruption and open up an even bigger can of worms. To help her with these lofty ambitions, she recruits a promising young attorney who also happens to be the half-sister of one of Amaro's victims.

On the State's side, Max Donovan puts Ellie in an awkward and potentially volatile situation when he makes Ellie and her partner, J.J. Rogan, a "fresh look" team for the Anthony Amaro case. They're charged with going back over the evidence, witnesses, testimony, etc., to either shore up Amaro's guilt or find the evidence that proves his innocence. As they, begrudgingly, start to dig, questions and uncertainties find their way to the surface, and a killer may find his way back to the streets.

I know that Alafair Burke is one of my favorite writers in this genre. Sometimes I think I say that reflexively now without thinking through why it is so. But sitting down last weekend with All Day and a Night reminded me in vivid color and surround sound, exactly why it is so. I was entranced. I did not want to put this book down--you might even say I read it all day and a night (o.k., sorry, groan). The plot was captivating, creative and authentic. Burke brings in cop-house banter and relationships that are engaging, entertaining and believable. In an early scene Ellie and J.J. have an exchange with another detective, John Shannon, that seems pretty run-of-the-mill when the reader first encounters it. The fact that it comes across as run-of-the-mill reinforces that authenticity. It flows, it doesn't seem forced or artificial in any way. Just a few colleagues taking fun jabs at one another. But the other important factor here--that doesn't become clear until later--is that this scene sets the stage for the value of trust and respect between the detectives, not just between partners, but beyond that.

So while Burke's plot is highly engaging--she has the action, the red herrings, the well-timed twists--she also has nuance and depth building all along the way. Look for it also in the evolution of Ellie and Max's relationship through the course of this novel.

I've written many times about Burke's strength in building characters. Ellie still reigns as my favorite female in crime fiction. Burke's other series regulars are just as strong. But one of the standout characters for me in All Day and a Night is Mona, a.k.a. Jane Emily Winston. A former prostitute and now the den mother, of sorts, at Vibrations:

"Physically petite, she came across larger than her frame thanks to a getup fit for a drag queen: blue-black hair piled high on her head, thick layers of colorful makeup, and a floor-length chiffon gown in bright turquoise."

Mona plays a small role in the novel, but leaves a strong and lasting impression. She's the sort of character you hope will show up in future bit roles and maybe even get something more substantial in the future. But in All Day and a Night, Mona is evidence that every character is vital in a Burke novel.

And while I'm quite certain I've written about dialogue in Burke's books before, it bears repeating. She's the queen. Even with some highly regarded best-selling authors, I find myself thinking, "that just sounds weird; who would talk like that?" But that's never the case with an Alafair Burke novel. Instead I find myself laughing or contemplating or feeling a little teary because not only can I imagine people talking like that, I've probably heard things similar in everyday conversations. And more than anything, it isn't something that draws undue attention to itself. It flows so beautifully and naturally that you have to stop and evaluate a page closely before you see the reason for your absorption. Burke is meticulous with her use of slang and dialect and idiom. This conversation between Ellie and J.J. illustrates that organic nature of Burke's dialogue:

"'I think he's holding something back from us. I know I put more stock in Harris's statement than you, but you have to admit that any decent cop would have done something with a cellmate willing to report on a suspected serial killer.'

'Or maybe he didn't give credence to a drug dealer willing to say whatever about whoever to cut his own time.'

'Whomever,' she corrected. 'Whatever about whomever.'

'How about 'whoever corrects my grammar again can walk back to the hotel'? Look, I didn't say Sullivan was a good cop, or even competent. I'm asking you why you think he's hiding something.'"

Cop partners talking out their evidence and maintaining their characters--witty repartee casually thrown in that simply flows with the discussion. Few dialogue tags are needed because the exchanges are clear. And I love that she doesn't shy away from a tag like "corrected." The word choice is far more effective than "said" would have been.

And as in the excerpt above, there's such a genuineness to Burke's exceptional use of humor. She finds the funny and ludicrous in the everyday:

"She pulled her fleet car next to an SUV with a bumper sticker boasting: 'My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student.' Call it stereotyping, but she suspected the driver would not be winning any knowledge-based contests this evening."

She also brings out the humor in the police officers. While crime novels are dark given the nature of their content, we also know that police use humor as a coping mechanism. So when that's missing from the representation of law enforcement, so is a factor of realism. All Day and a Night doesn't lack for realism.

Burke's work is a regular go-to for me on recommendations. She is a stand-out in this field and my time spent reading an Alafair Burke novel continues to be a treasure.

All Day and a Night is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0062208385) from Harper. It is also available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 978-1483004822) narrated by Andi Arndt from HarperCollins Audio and Blackstone Audio.


Beth F July 7, 2014 at 7:08 AM  

I can't believe I haven't gotten to this one yet. Sounds like I'd better make the time.

Jen Forbus July 7, 2014 at 9:23 AM  

Oh yes, C! You absolutely must!!

Katharine Ott July 7, 2014 at 11:21 AM  

Our book group read Burke's "Long Gone" a while back and I wasn't really overwhelmed. Could that be one of her lesser works and I should give her a second chance? Or maybe she's just not for me!

samantha.1020 July 7, 2014 at 7:19 PM  

I really enjoyed this one as well! I can't wait to read more from this series. Great review!

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