Patricia Cornwell’s Hornet’s Nest is a police procedural that turns that mystery novel sub-class upside down and inside out.
Cornwell sets the story in “the hornet’s nest of America,” Charlotte, NC, where the two top cops are women. Chief Judy Hammer is cool, collected, 50-ish professional who job of running the department includes being its public face.
Chief Deputy Virginia West, 42, is less cool and collected but no less sexy or less committed to her job.
Hammer has gotten permission from the city to allow Andy Brazil, the new police reporter for the Charlotte Observer, to ride along on police calls. Hammer orders West to take Brazil with her and to make sure he gets to see action. There is plenty of action, including what appears to be a series of brutal murders of businessmen in town for short stays.
Cornwell has plotted her story so readers have all the clues they need to be prepared for every surprise she throws in. She keeps her focus on personalities and their reactions, which reminded me of cops I saw when I worked a newspaper police beat. Parts of the story are laugh-out-loud funny, others tragic.
The Establishment is the last novel in Howard Fast’s trilogy about the family of Dan Lavette, the son of an immigrant fisherman who made and lost two fortunes.
Here, as in Second Generation, Fast focuses on Dan’s daughter Barbara who married a Jewish soldier of fortune. Barbara’s writing produces a good income without her touching her inheritance.
Husband Bernie operates a garage. He works very hard, barely turns a profit, and is bored. He jumps at the chance to fly planes to Israel to prepare the new nation for a forthcoming war against Arab countries with established armies.
He’s killed in Israel.
Reporting Barbara did from Nazi Germany brings her to the attention of the McCarthy hearings. She’s sentenced to six months in a federal prison for women.
Meanwhile, Barbara’s brother Tom is becoming a power broker, part of the wealthy establishment men who select the people whom Americans will elect by popular vote to run the country.
Fast’s novels cry out for video treatment: The main characters are merely sketched, there are swift scene changes, and the historical context has been lost in the intervening 40 years.
Masterpiece could make Fast’s novels come alive.
Fast merely makes them hurtle through history.
The Establishment by Howard Fast
Houghton Mifflin, 1979. 337 p.
1979 bestseller #8 My grade: B