The First Deadly sin is an ambitious and polarizing project that seems to divide the readership into well separated camps. One claims it is self indulgently rambling, at least 300 pages too long and not very convincing in its psychological profiles. Others hail it as one of the best character driven murder mysteries, immersive and filled with accurate observations of human nature, both criminal and law enforcer. I perversely find value in both arguments. The novel is indeed too long and the pacing feels off, with long periods of inactivity or futile investigations of false leads followed by much too short explosions of violence. The main two characters are complex and their motivations multi-layered, yet sometimes they feel artifical, contrived, like actors playing the parts written for them instead of real people. In the end, I was swayed by the moral and arguments and the elegance of the demonstration and was able to ignore the negative vibes. It probably helps that I have read another book in the Cardinal Sins series a long time ago and I considered it one of the best (it was actually one of my first) police procedurals ever published. I'm talking about [the third], which features the same elderly policeman, a very similar plot structure alternating the POV between the criminal and the investigator, and a heavy dose of psychological profiling.
Since I mentioned the plot structure, I probably should explain more about the way it is constructed. The novel is not really a 'mystery' since we are presented right from the first page with the killer. Nevertheless, I should probably warn you that my review may contain spoilers.
His name is Daniel Blank and he is a successful businessman, a model citizen, a sportsman with a passion for mountain climbing and fast cars. A very long first section follows him in the minute details of his daily activities, leading up to the first crime. Then the POV switches to the other side of the law and introduces Edward X Delaney, the commander of the police precinct where the murder takes place. Another long section fleshes out his character traits, his personal family problems (his wife is diagnosed with a rare and deadly kidney disease), his position in the internal political struggles within the department. Then he is called to the scene of the crime. The next section returns to the killerand his next victim, then back to the cop, in ever decreasing chapters reflecting the heating up of the chase and the final confrontation between the hunter and the hunted. All rather standard fare to the readers familiar wih the genre conventions, until the author pulls the proverbial rug from under our feet and changes the roles : the hunter of innocent victims becomes the prey of a merciless adversary, and the man who has sworn to obey the law is ready to do anything, use anybody and break every rule in order to punish the killer.
Before I try to delve deeper into the two personalities clashing in this life and death chess game, I would like to mention how much the setting is part of the story:
He knew that in 1971 New York City had more murders than American combat deaths in Vietnam during the same period. In New York, almost five victims a day were shot, knifed, strangled, bludgeoned, set on fire or thrown from roofs. In such a horrific bloodbath, what was one more?
Edward X Delaney takes it personally though. He has a medieval sense of ownership over the city blocks allocated to his precinct. He has an image of himself as a feudal lord wih an obligation to protect his subjects and punish any who threaten the peace of his domain. He is dour and inflexible, methiculous and a stickler for discipline. His subordinates have nicknamed him "Iron Balls". He loves the city with a clear eyed and demanding passion, aware of its squalor and vice:
His city was an affirmation of life: its beauty, harshness, sorrow, humor, horror, and ecstasy. In the pushing and shoving, in the brutality and violence, he saw striving, the never-ending flux of life, and would not trade it for any place on Earth. It could grind a man to litter, or raise him to the highest coppered roof, glinting in benignant sunlight.
For Daniel Blank, the city is instead a place of corruption, a jungle in which only the ruthless and the strong survive:
It was a city sprung and lurching. It throbbed to a crippled rhythm, celebrated death with insensate glee. Filth pimpled its nightmare streets. The air smelled of ashes. In the schools young children craftily slid heroin into their veins.
A luncheonette owner was shot dead when he could not supply apple pie to a demanding customer. A French tourist was robbed in daylight, then shot and paralized. A pregnant woman was raped by three men in a subway station at 10:30 in the morning. Bombs were set. Acid was thrown. Explosions destroyed embassies, banks, and churches. Infants were beaten to death. Glass was shattered, leather slashed, plants uprooted, obscene slogans sprayed on marble monuments. Zoos were invaded and small animals torn apart.
His poisoned city staggered in a mad plague dance. A tarnished sun glared down on an unmeaning world. Each man, at night, locked himself within bars, hoping for survival in his iron cage. He huddled in upon himself, hoarding his sanity, and moved through crowded streets glancing over his shoulder, alert to parry the first blow with his own oiled blade.
Daniel's outdoor activities have built up his strength, have given him steely nerves, fast reactions and a taste for risk taking. His recent divorce, caused apparently by his demands for more unusual and unconventional bedroom activities, have liberated him from the need to conform to 'tame' social conventions. He has become a predator, an adrenaline junkie, a man without a conscience who believes everything is permitted to the one who dares. When he meets Celia Montfort, a disillusioned, self-destructive socialite with a taste for the morbid and the bizarre, he feels he has found a kindred spirit ('Evil implies intelligence and a deliberate intent' she declares). Daniel's personality portrait is completed with the expected childhood traumas, self absorbtion and lack of conscience, muddled sexual identity and split personality. The author lies the foundation with a bit of a heavy hand, but I can't challenge his basic assumption that an investigator shouldn't be complacent and dismiss the value of a thorough profiling.
In all his personal experiences with and research on psychopatic killers he had never come across or read of a killer totally without motive. Certainly the motive might be irrational, senseless, but in every case, particularly those involving multiple murders, the killer had a "motive". It might be as obvious as financial gain; it might be an incredible philosophical structure as creepy and cheap as an Eiffel Tower built of glued toothpicks.
But however mad the assassin, he had his reasons: the slights of society, the whispers of God, the evil of man, the demands of political faith, the fire of ego, the scorn of women, the terrors of loneliness ... whatever. But he had his reasons. [...] He wondered what this man might be thinking and dreaming, might be hoping and planning.
Here are a few examples to illustrate Sanders thesis about how people become killers:
He grew up in that silent, loveless, white-tiled house and, an only child, had no sun to turn to and so turned inward, becoming contemplative, secretive even. Almost all he thought and all he felt concerned himself, his wants, fears, hates, hopes, despairs. Strangely, for a young boy, he was aware of this intense egoism and wondered if everyone else was as self-centered.
Daniel's apartment is filled with mirrors. He likes to look at himself, as if the whole world outside is unimportant, irrelevant. He likes to pose naked in front of his mirrors, to touch himself, to even wear feminine apparel, gold and lingerie. The man is pathologically in love with himself.
Not one mirror or fitted tiles of mirrors, but more than fifty individual mirrors adorned the wall; tiny mirrors and large mirrors, flat and beveled, true and exagerative, round and square, oval and rectangular. The wall quivered with silver reflections.
Other aspects of his true self are revealed in the bedroom. His roleplaying involves sunglasses or the wearing of bestial African masks - accesories that allow him to hide and observe the world from an outsider, detached position. Daniel discovers he is at least as much interested in same sex partners as in the attentions of his girlfriend Celia, an added complication that frankly I thought was overkill, but was probably given more credit for deviant behaviour back in the seventies.
Coming back to Delaney, he has unexplored character traits himself, behind his gruff, authorian facade. He was born old, with hope, a secret love of beauty, and a taste for melancholy. I have met his counterparts, almost carbon copies, in two of my favorite series : Sam Vimes of the Ankh Morpork City Guard and Martin Beck of the Swedish Criminal Bureau. They are the silent and sad cops who have started by patrolling the streets, and who raised trough the ranks until they become commanders, the ones who reluctantly and forever complaining do what needs to be done to keep the city safe.
Delaney is more than a simple policeman. He is concerned with understading motivations, with teaching others how to catch their man; he is as ruthless in introspection as he is the hunt for the killer. He has written a series of essays on the role of the policeman, that might be unintentionally too intimate and candid for public consumption:
Delaney had prepared a third article for the series. This dealt with his theory of an "adversary concept" in which he explored the Dostoevskian relationship between detective and criminal. It was an abstruse examination of the "sensual" (Delaney's word) between hunter and hunted, of how, in certain cases, it was necessary for the detective to penetrate and assume the physical body, spirit, and soul of the criminal in order to bring him to justice. This treatise, at Barbara's gentle persuasion, Delaney did not submit for publication.
Since I mentioned Barbara, I should also point out that she is the opposite of the enabler Celia. The two women never meet in the novel, Barbara being confined in a hospital bed, but they are assigned equal parts in shaping the personalities and acting as the subcoscious voice of their men. Celia exarcebates and provokes the madness in Daniel. Barbara is the voice of reason, the ray of sunshine, of laughter, of hope and moderation in the life of Edward. without her moral support and assistance, even 'Iron Balls' will get lost in the dangers of the game he plays. And the significance of the title is finally made clear:
It was surely the most deadly; compared to pride, the other six seemed little more than physical excesses. But pride was a spiritual corruption and, worse, it had no boundaries, no limits, but could consume a man utterly.
In him, he knew, pride was not merely self-esteem, not just egotism. He knew his shortcomings better than anyone except, perhaps, his wife. His pride went beyond a satisfied self-respect; it was an arrogance, a presumption of moral superiority he brought to events, to people and, he supposed wryly, to God. [...] "Punishment." That was the key word. His damnable pride had driven him to making a moral judgement, and, having made it, he had to be cop, judge, jury. He had to play God; that's where his arrogance had led him. Too many years as a cop. You started on the street, settling family squabbles, a Solomon in uniform; you ended hounding a man to his death because you knew him guilty and wanted him to suffer for his guilt. It was all pride, nothing but pride.
12. nov 2012. 1/100. 614,9. 319,8. 222,3. 31,72. The First Deadly Sin (Deadly Sins, #2) 15,21. 1/50. 503,1. 239,2. 148,2. 22,88. 13,65. Hændelse Afstrømningstal, liter/sek (areal_red x intensitet).
The First Deadly Sin (Deadly Sins, #2)Lawrence Sanders e-bog gratis
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