All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

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Reviewed by Ann

NYPD detective, Ellie Hatcher and her partner, JJ Rogan, are not best pleased when Ellie’s boyfriend, Assistant District Attorney Max Donovan, arranges that they should be ‘lent out’ as a fresh look team to reconsider the case of Anthony Amaro.  Given life twenty years previously for a murder committed in New York, Amaro was commonly thought to have also been responsible for five others in Utica, a small upstate town.  But now a seventh murder has occurred and there are aspects of the killing which make it seem as if it might be related to the earlier sequence.  When the DA’s office receives an anonymous letter from a writer who knows about previously undisclosed features of the earlier deaths, it appears that someone thinks Amaro was falsely convicted and the possibility has to be investigated.

The two detectives’ task is made all the more urgent by the fact that Amaro’s case has been taken up by criminal defence lawyer, Linda Moreland, a woman intent on making her name by ‘police bashing’ and having as many past convictions as she can overturned.  Not only is she determined to have Amaro out on the streets as soon as possible but she also means to use his case to call into question all the others dealt with by the same police team.

In fact, Moreland’s own ethical code is nothing to write home about, but knowing this doesn’t stop Carrie Blank going to work for her as an associate.  Carrie has a personal interest in the investigation.  Her half-sister, Donna, was one of the girls murdered in their home town of Utica and she hopes that being involved in the Amaro case will give her the opportunity to finally find out just who was responsible for her death.  While Carrie can justify her decision to herself, she is less than happy about having to explain it to her mother and to her closest hometown friend, Bill Sullivan, now New York’s Lieutenant Governor.  Both she and Bill had to fight hard to make their way in the world and she doesn’t want to appear to have given up all she has worked for to defend a man society has generally despised.  However, features of Donna’s life and death mark her as different from the other victims and Carrie needs the truth.

Well, the truth may set you free, but it can also hurt and before the investigation is over Carrie will have been hurt in many ways. However, she will also have learnt the meaning of unconditional love, and one of the subjects that Burke is exploring in this, her fifth novel about Ellie Hatcher, is the ties that bind people together in partnerships of all kinds.  If you’ve read the earlier books (and it isn’t necessary to have done so to enjoy this one, but you are missing out) then you will know that Ellie and Max’s relationship has reached a critical point from which it could tip either way.  The problem (and when she is being honest she will admit it) is Ellie’s and the life-long difficulty she has in being prepared to depend on anyone other than herself.  In this novel her fear that even so much as one disagreement will bring about rejection challenges not only her personal partnership with Max, but also her professional relationship with Rogan.  It takes the examples of those caught up in the tragedies she is investigating to show her that depths of trust and love can bind people together regardless of the most horrendous acts.  For the first time since we met her, Ellie recognises that she does not have to be alone.

It isn’t just trust between individuals that Burke is exploring here, however. She is also concerned with the trust that should exist between the police and the public they serve;  a trust which has become fractured in New York and which is frequently seen as less than solid in the UK as well.  For anyone who lives in the English West Midlands the suggestion that specific officers may have been guilty of concocting suspects’ statements will cause hardly so much as a raised eyebrow.  We have seen far too many convictions from a period of twenty to thirty years ago overturned because the evidence was corrupted in one way or another.  I’ve worked with forensic linguists and have had oversight of some so-called statements that make the scripts Linda Moreland accuses the NYPD of fabricating look like examples of pristine recording.  But, unlike Moreland, Burke isn’t interested in facile ‘police bashing’.  She is far more concerned with examining why this relationship, which is central to the smooth running of society, is in danger of falling apart.  Why is it that after one of the toughest recorded crackdowns on urban crime, and a period when New Yorkers have felt safer than at any time in recent history, there has been a sudden shift against the very forces that brought about that change?  Of course, there is no easy answer but the questions that are raised force the reader to consider to what lengths it is permissible for anyone, police or public, to go in the pursuit of justice.  Can you ever argue that the ends justify the means?

At the point when this book was sent to me for review I hadn’t read any of Burke’s other Ellie Hatcher novels.  I decided that I couldn’t possibly do this one justice without at least becoming acquainted with the series, so I picked up a copy of Ellie’s initial outing, Dead Connection.  It wasn’t the greatest work of literature, but I enjoyed it enough to buy copies of two, three and four and have watched as both the character and the plot execution have developed.  If you were to put a gun to my head (and a lot of people have guns put to their heads in the course of this story) I still wouldn’t be able to say that All Day and a Night is great literature but it is a rattling good police procedural and if you enjoy that genre then you should have no qualms about reading it.

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Ann blogs at Café Society

Alafair Burke,  All Day and a Night (Faber and Faber: London, 2014). 978-0-571-302314-9, 352pp., trade paperback.

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