Reviewer Tom Pope: Tom is a writing teacher and fiction coach who strives to spark the imagination. As a teacher, he works with tutoring services to help students organize essays and understand literary elements like the point of view. As a fiction coach, he aids authors to develop characters, brainstorm conflict pacing and design worldbuilding.
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Author: E.J. Findorff
Rain of Terror Floods Clues in a New Orleans’ Crime
When asked about the initials KOD, found at a murder site in the beginning of E.J. Findorff’s crime and crisis novel, the protagonist says, “Kings of Delusion.”
Protagonist Evan Pelicano explained his dead friend’s term meant to describe players of a friendly poker game. Yet the term could also apply to how people miss warning signs of a murderer in the midst of a tight-knit circle of police and firemen friends, or how to prepare for a coming hurricane like Katrina. Or how the mainstream have ignored the poor who suffer more when a social upheaval tears society apart.
Findorff thrusts readers through a swirl of storms as Pelicano or Pel uses paramedic skills taxed by the murder of a close friend, where his sister’s husband is a suspect. Pel’s second layer of stress erupts as he tries to protect the victim’s teen-aged daughter who has a crush on Pel and tries to cope with the killing of her parents.
Yet Findorff isn’t content with having readers twist in the winds of those conflicts. He throws those at us just as the maelstrom of Katrina barrels into Pel’s New Orleans. Pel rushes to find stranded victims as flood waters rise, and the onslaught of the flooding forces him to leave many victims as his crew fights for survival. In the midst, the once-thought of friends open more questions about who killed the victim.
Findorff uses well developed skills to visually describe parts of New Orleans, personal relationships, police protocols, and the whipping winds of Katrina that flooded buildings and lives. Readers can actually see Decatur Street where the Natchez Steamer sent rhythms of jazz bands prior to Katrina. Readers feel they can peer into the wide windows of pubs as deep Blues send shivers through the spine. They can also almost smell the soft dough baking at Cafe Du Monde from the famous Beignets.
Findorff blends the physical description with inner personal anxiety as Pel shifts between feeling loyalty to his group of friends and his growing fear that one is the killer. Pel’s psychology is turned upside down as readers can find him susceptible to separation anxiety from his parents. They can see a questioning of commitment to a lover who should be his soul mate if he could only realize it.
And Findorff brings readers into the police interview process with complex characters who reveal half truths as detectives play subtle games of prying information from them. The effect is a display reminiscent of the realistic interview scenes from the TV series, “Homicide — Life on the Street,” or “NYPD Blue.”
However, Findorff has failed to bring a key element into his story. Any story dealing with the devastation from Katrina, affecting the poor of the city, demands a point of view (POV) from a member of the poverty stricken community. The use of a mainstream perspective can fit many stories even those that deal with inner cultural issues. Those stories occur to show a certain character development dealing with a mentality. But to have a Katrina story without a POV from someone in the housing project, or a gang member trying to save a community member from the flood, or even a member of a resident from the lower ninth ward sends the wrong message.
That message would sound to some people that an entire community can be ignored. The result would be like reading Dickens‘, “A Tale of a City.”
Findorff’s use of language as a propaganda tool falls outside of Pel’s awareness — he’s too mainstream. Yet after reading the word, “looting” several times, I noticed that all the characters feared the breakdown of society. No mention came about how they, the first responders, would expect to seek supplies until they were stressed. Then they used the term, “conducting a raid.” The message within the characters was that others “looted” and the first responders had the right to “raid.”
No character existed to show the fear for survival from the lower ninth ward or the loss of homes. No character existed to voice why they could not evacuate because lack of funds or a car prevented them. No character popped up to worry about the future as the lack of documents would prevent people from insurance help.
However, the mainstream responders show a point of view when they seek safety from roaming gangs during a crossing at night on a bridge where some gang members blocked their approach. The POV shows fear from the responders. None is shown from the gang members. If the responders felt saver wielding their weapons, why do they assume the gang members only seek violence because they hold weapons? Imagine a gang member who saw helicopters avoid saving his family. Maybe the guns he saw at the responders’ sides were a threat to him.
Whose survival is at stake? If assumption about actions are held because the act comes from a member of a group who is different and without power, isn’t that the definition of racism?
Key characters could have filled in those points of view. An African American character actually exists as part of the suspects from the poker game. But the character, detective Tack, is compromised. He could be viewed more as a part of the police culture rather than the African American culture. His income put him above the culture of poverty. Pel’s girlfriend, Reese, worked in Mayor Nagin’s office during the crisis. But readers learn nothing about the problems the Nagin Administration had prior to the Katrina, or what Nagin might have been doing. Reese could have provided an insight to other ways of handling the crisis. While readers did hear a couple of sentences about the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the readers could have found out more from what Reese thought about a coordination between the city and FEMA. Reese worked well to probe the psychology of Pel and the teen he helped. She could have done more.
Perhaps Findorff thought the wider story of social distress would detract from the crime crisis focus. However, any story about Katrina might look to “A Tale of Two Cities” as a model. Where would that story be without Madame Defarge to show the injustice or Dr. Manette to reveal the victim of a social oppression? Findorff might refer to our delusion of living in a world of easy answers when a crime/crisis story also intersects with social upheaval. Yet the challenge for authors would be to blend the conflicts so all the forces at play can be viewed by the reader.