Kenneth Abel: Cold Steel Rain

This is a beautifully written, moving, horrifying book – but it also has some problems. Abel is able almost as well as James Lee Burke to take New Orleans and make it live and breathe for the reader – and he is also skilled at various violent vignettes which stay around with you for some time after finishing the book (another James Lee Burke talent). He has an interesting main character, Danny Chaisson, a former DA who left his job to be the bagman for one of the most notorious political “fixers” in Louisiana – and in Louisiana, famous for its scandalous politics, that’s saying alot. Danny has lots of interesting psychological baggage and he’s an appealing character. The plot is sort of an amorphous one – much like the hot, humid, smoky New Orleans weather, parts of this plot seem to swirl in out of nowhere on a heat wave, and then swirl right back out. The book opens with the restaurant slaughter of five people – two of whom were Danny’s friends. For Danny, this is an irresistible draw into a heartbreaking case which ends up leading to a major gun supplier. Danny is tied into it in all kinds of ways that emerge as the plot moves along.

I think Abel’s real agenda, though, is illustrating in a particularly graphic and heartbreaking way the effect of cheap and easy guns on the primarily African American children who are able to get hold of them. There are no easy answers to this problem, but Abel certainly takes you for an inside ride. What isn’t like James Lee Burke is Abel’s only fledgling ability to bring his characters to fully formed life. As many readers know, Dave Robicheaux lives and breathes, and I can’t say exactly the same thing for Danny Chaisson. If Abel can manage to write a more tightly focused plot and also to tighten up his characters, this will be a top notch series. As it is, it’s beautifully written and memorable in lots of ways. I recommend this effort in what is the first in a series, and I personally look forward to the second book.