This is an old Elmore Leonard. 1980. Subtitled High Noon in Detroit, City Primeval treats the urban cops and robbers drama as a combination of modern law enforcement and frontier justice. I’m sure Leonard must have used the police detective-protagonist, Raymond Cruz, in other novels, though this is the first time I’ve seen him. He’s Unique. Hard-boiled, taciturn, yet conflicted and vulnerable. He gets involved with an equally interesting and complex criminal defense attorney who, three years before the events of the book take place, manipulated the release of a psychopath, Clement Mansell, now on a rampage. The relationship between cop and lawyer is emblematic of the tension among individual rights, public safety, morality, and the meaning of justice that permeate society. There’s a lot of angst about working around and/or through Mirandizing, search and seizure, harassment and interrogation (all issues which have become even more complicated since the book was written), just as there’s a lot of angst about love and sex amidst the dynamics of prosecution and defense and who’s doing what to whom when it comes to romance.
These are all fascinating issues, but the juice of City Primeval emerges from the conflict between Cruz and Mansell. With his trademark humor, Leonard has created an appealing sociopath who not only murders on a whim, but flaunts his actions in public and private. He has a wiseass Ferris Beuller manner about him that challenges authority and turns cops and principals into bumblers and stumblers. This is all terrifically amusing until something happens to remind you that despite his smarts and wit, he’s not just a merry prankster. He doesn’t dodge or hide, he attacks, then dares all and sundry to do anything about it. He stays a step ahead of the available evidence, all but declaring his guilt while evading meaningful arrest. The “high noon” part of the title comes into play because the farther things go, the more apparent it becomes that the system is not set up to deal with Mansell. Which, of course, forces the showdown.
It’s a quick and absorbing read. Worth the ride just for the sex and showdown scenes. Worth a try.