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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Streets of Fire (audiobook) by Thomas H. Cook




"That's the trouble with a situation like this - you just don't know who is who."

Published by Highbridge Audio in 2012
Read by Ray Chase
Duration: 11 hours, 35 minutes

Thomas H. Cook's Streets of Fire is set in Birmingham, Alabama in the spring of 1963 during Martin Luther King's famed "Birmingham Campaign" that featured the Children's March, "Bull" Connor, boycotts and fire hoses being turned on demonstrators.


Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. 
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, 
Prints and Photographs Division, AL-898-5
Sergeant Ben Wellman is called away from taking detailed notes on Martin Luther King's speeches at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (one of many policemen that were used as spies who filled notebooks and turned them in to their superiors) to investigate a dead body found in a shallow grave in an abandoned ball field in Bearmatch, a black neighborhood. Generally, the all white Birmingham police department didn't do much investigating into murders in this working class Black neighborhood - they are logged and if it is not solved with minimal investigation, it is left to the people of Bearmatch to mete out justice if they can.

But, Wellman is touched by this case. A 12 year old girl in a simple dress was raped and killed and buried in the middle of a neighborhood and no one noticed because so many people were involved in the protests. Wellman digs into this case and also into the racial divisions of Birmingham. As he investigates he also discovers deep fissures in white and black society - neither are monolithic and the protests are causing both societies to split apart.

The Birmingham police department is also splitting under the pressure. Some cops are true racists, some are just following orders and some are quietly on the side of the protesters and wondering and how they should proceed. As the book proceeds, Wellman moves from being a simple order follower to being solidly on the side of the protesters.

This is a great police procedural. Sometimes it is a buddy book, sometimes it is one man against the system, sometimes it is just a look at the tragedy that racial hate has wrought on American society. The back story of the protests adds a great deal of depth and urgency to the story. Be prepared, the history is not one hundred percent correct, but I suggest that the changes are minimal enough to make the story to work (changed for dramatic effect as they say in the movies).

The only complaint I have is the large number of characters. Ray Chase, the reader, does a tremendous job of creating separate voices for all of them (his reading is actually quite remarkable and I heartily recommend the audio version). However, there are so many characters that are so integral to the story that they just sort of flow into one another one after a while, especially when it comes to the police detectives. It makes sense that there would be so many police in the department, but to make so many of them characters makes it a bit complicated.

A bit complicated but very much worth it.

This audiobook was provided to me at no charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review as a part of the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer program.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Streets of Fire can be found on Amazon.com here.

Reviewed on April 3, 2013.

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