Noted crime novelist, Gregg Hurwitz, makes his comic book writing debut today with this year's Wolverine Annual. In anticipation of this release, I figured it would make sense for me to first review his latest novel, The Crime Writer, which the good folks at Viking for nice enough to send to me.
The Crime Writer is based on the following high concept - a crime novelist wakes up in the hospital after having brain surgery. He discovers that he is accused of murdering his former fiancee as he was found having a seizure of her dead body, but due to the brain tumor he just had removed, he can't remember any of the events of her death. Acquitted of her murder because of said brain tumor, the novelist now searches for the real killer, all the while desperately hoping that there WAS, in fact, a "real killer." It is a great hook for a story, and Hurwitz mines the concept for what amounts to be an entertaining read.
Probably the strongest facet of Hurwitz's work is the characters he creates for the story. Drew Danner, the novelist in question, makes many pointed observations about life in Los Angeles, and uses the contacts he has made over the years of writing crime novels to try to solve this murder. From the cop who was Danner's liaison to the police when he writing the books to the criminologist who helped Danner out with forensic details to the actor who played one of Danner's characters in a film adaptation of one of Danner's novels, the connections make sense and ring true.
I was particularly impressed with the time Hurwitz gives (via flashbacks) to Danner's trial. It is a fascinating idea for a murder trial, and Hurwitz milks it for all it is worth.
The culture of being a pariah is addressed a few times in the book, as Danner is known to everyone as basically a murderer who got away on a technicality, and now, his books are selling better than ever. His best friend is a former baseball player who is also known for a Bill Buckner-like incident involving the player years earlier, so every once in awhile, some stranger will shout out obscenities at the pair. It's quite humorous, and quite true-to-life.
If I had one significant drawback to the story, it would be the love interest. When Danner is looking for a witness to a murder, he discovers that a young graffiti artist was there. Danner ends up becoming a sort of big brother to the kid, but this brings him into conflict with the boy's clinical therapist, who becomes Danner's love interest. THAT, I have no problem with, but Danner gives the therapist an interesting back story - but a back story that I do not think one should bring up in a book like this, where Hurwitz just doesn't have the time to address the story in a proper manner. The woman has deep scars from when she was working at a prison, and was trapped with some prisoners she was counseling during a riot. She was raped and disfigured. Hurwitz ATTEMPTS to deal with how difficult it is for her to then pursue a romance with Danner (especially the sex part), but with not that much space to pursue it, I think it trivializes the severity of her situation, as her rape and disfigurement is practically tantamount in the novel to "She was a former dancer and she liked the Red Sox," that is, just background information about her. The whole plot struck me as something he would have been better off keeping for a later story where he could devote more time to it. That being said, it is not a huge problem, and, as mentioned, Hurwitz does TRY to address her problems, he just doesn't have the time to do it justice, so it is not like he totally glossed over it.
Anyhow, the murder mystery is handled well, but you are really following the characters in this story rather than the plot. The mystery is secondary to the interesting dialogue and character interactions in the book.
This is a fun read, and a good book. It makes me very hopeful for Hurwitz' comic book work.