|Sgt. Malcolm Ainslie
(creator: Arthur Hailey)
|Detective-Sergeant Malcolm Ainslie of the Miami Police Homicide Department Is a former Catholic priest, who had quit the priesthood ten years before, after co-publishing a book on comparative religion which had led him to doubt the reliability of Biblical claims. "When he'd quit the priesthood at 30, after a seminary education and a Ph.D. degree, followed by five years as a parish priest, he simply walked away, abandoning religion entirely." How he'd managed to study theology for years and even obtain a doctorate in it without learning that the Bible was written by different authors at different times (a discovery that eventually caused him to lose his faith) is never adequately explained.
Aged 41, Ainslie "was solidly built, a half inch short of six feet and not too different in appearance from his days as a high school fullback. Only a slight belly bespoke the junk food he often ate - a staple for many detectives, obliged to eat on the run." He was married to Karen who wished that he would give up his detective work so as to spend more time at home, and they had an eight-year-old son, Jason, whom he would have liked to have seen more of, but "a cop, especially a Homicide detective, was always on duty".
He had failed to win further promotion due to the machinations of Cynthia, his ex-lover, who had ended up as a Major in the police force, and who still harboured grievances against him, but who, as is explained in the story, turns out to have a few problems of her own.
Arthur Hailey (1920-2004) was born in Luton in England, and began his writing career while a RAF pilot during the Second World War. After the war, he lived and wrote in Canada, becoming a Canadian citizen as well as British. He also lived briefly in the United States. In 1969, he made his home in exclusive Lyford Clay on Providence Island on the Bahamas to avoid paying income taxes which were taking 90% of his income. He was immensely successful commercially as a writer, producing eleven books which sold more than 150 million copies. In addition, most of his books were filmed (Airport was based on one of his titles). He usually spent a year researching each book, six months reviewing his notes and some 18 months writing the book. He eventually died of a stroke, after suffering from Alzheimer's, leaving a second wife, Sheila, and six children.
All this makes a strong story, but it is weakened by prolonged flashbacks, which break up the action and lessen the excitement. We don't really need so much about why Ainslie became a priest (largely to please his mother after his more holy brother was shot) or be told the whole of the family grace that he makes up: "At this table, where we join for food and fellowship, we reaffirm our belief in ethics, truth, love, and - especially today - the best ideals of family life. We celebrate this family's unity, its achievements, good fortune - and for our youngest clan here - their promise, dreams, and hopes. On this sunny occasion for George and Jason we pledge our mutual loyalty, promising to support each other in difficult times, however and wherever these occur. And as well as family, we welcome those treasured friends who share our celebration and affections." We're told that a guest even commented, "I'm a churchgoer but I liked that better than a lot of conventional graces that I've listened to." But did we really need to hear it? And the whole of part four of the book, a lengthy flashback as to exactly how and why the crime was committed, is overlong and would have benefited by severe pruning. As Martha Gellhorn pointed out, the author tends to tell us everything three times.
So there is more than we need or want to know about practically every subject that he raises, as when he goes into quite unnecessary detail about what went on at Doyle's trial, or exactly how the police property department works, or the minutiae of police procedure: "Waldon was dusting wood surfaces with a black graphite powder mixed with tiny iron fillings, and applied with a magnetic brush; the mix adhered to moisture, lipids, amino acids, salts and other chemicals of which fingerprints were composed. On smooth surfaces - glass or metal - a non-magnetic powder was used, of differing colours to suit varied backgrounds. As she worked, Waldon switched from one type of powder to another, knowing that prints varied depending on skin texture, temperature, or contaminants on hands." The author has done his research and is obviously determined to spare us none of it. We are even given a detailed description of the working of the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, although all we really need to know was that the fingerprints in question did not match up. And the author even finds room for a history lesson on grand juries.
However, there are parts of the story that really grip the reader's attention, as when there are vivid descriptions of Ainslie's hectic 400 mile journey to the prison, the prison itself, the Death Facility and process of execution by electric chair, and how the Homicide Department "was totally unlike the noisy, frenetic detective divisions seen on TV". And there's a nice moment when a junior detective who is in charge of the crime scene has the nerve to shout to the police chief "Stop! Don't go there!", an apparently reckless action for which the chief eventually commends him.
There are exciting chase scenes too, a dramatic account of an attempted bank robbery, a vivid account of digging up a grave, and a very effective scene in which Ainslie stands up to the bullying rich and important Mrs Maddox-Davanal. " Who is your superior officer?" she demands.
One of the characters is Jensen, a crime writer who mixes with criminals as part of "his seach for a crime story". He is even allowed to tag along to witness a murder by Virgilio, a particularly vicious hit-man, because, as one of the crooks points out, "Pat's okay, Virgilio. He writes books, see. You tell him shit, he makes the story - just a story - nothing real, don't do us no harm." It does not seem very likely, but presumably the author should know. What sounds more true to life is a reference to a well-known actor who had been cast in the part of a detective who had murdered a little girl, but then "the writers were told to change the ending .... His agent said it would ruin his career to play the murderer of a little kid. So I think we're going to make his partner the killer now." You wonder if that sort of thing had happened to the author when his books were being filmed.
At one stage a bank manager comments "This is like a scene from one of Mr Jensen's books."
|Hailey has been criticised for writing pot-boilers, but, even though this book is overlong, it has its appeal.|