P.I. Fritz Malone is back in Cold Day in Hell, Richard Hawke’s engaging and entertaining sequel to Speak of the Devil. He teams up with NYPD detective Megan Lamb because hugely popular and lascivious late-night talk show personality Marshall Fox is on trial for the murders of two women found near the obelisk Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park - but the deaths haven’t stopped with his arrest. Either there is a copycat killer out there, the duo reason, or the wrong person is on trial and the actual murderer is still at large. They’ll be pushed to the limits and brought to the brinks of their own deaths before the investigation is through.
Cold Day in Hell opens with the last few hours of Robin Burrell’s life on this earth. She’s one of Fox’s amorous conquests, and he is linked to her death in the perverse way the body is displayed. Fox’s patented way sign-off from his show each night is to put two fingers to his lips to blow a kiss, then put his hand to his heart. Burrell, the third person to die in all and the first while Marshall is on trial, is discovered by the police in her apartment, sprawled near her Christmas tree with a jagged piece of mirror in her throat and her hand affixed to her chest with a four-inch nail. On her answering machine someone has left the message “I’m coming, you whore. Can you taste the blood yet?”
Marshall Fox’s producer and love interest, Cynthia Blair, was the first victim. An early-morning dog walker in Central Park wanders across her body “lying at the base of Cleopatra’s Needle,” in Central Park with a red scarf knotted around her neck. The murderer hadn’t, at this stage, decided on using a nail; instead, he made do with what he had available:
“her face was covered with tiny puncture wounds from what proved to be a ballpoint pen, the very pen that had been proved to be a ballpoint pen that had been used to fix the victim’s hand in place over her heart.”
Nikki Rossman, the second woman murdered, met Marshall Fox through the wonders of online chat rooms. Thinking she was communicating with one of many people who claim to be Marshall Fox online, she finds to her amazement that the person who calls himself “Lucky Dog” is the real Marshall Fox. He has her go to Ruby’s Books, where she’s directed to look in a copy of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” Within it, there’s a note and “something small wrapped in tissue paper.” Opening the tissue paper, she sees that
The tissue contained a slender chain to which was attached an aluminum dog tag.
Knowing Marshall Fox, it seems, can be very hazardous to your health.
Everyone has a theory about Fox’s guilt or innocence and wants to tell it to Fritz Malone and hire him to prove its validity. Even Malone’s mother offers him a theory about the case. It’s the kind of delicious, juicy trial that people talk about at the watercooler the following day, discussing the latest bombshell du jour, and is compared to O.J.’s in the level of its coverage as “O.J. East.”
The word BITCH was inscribed on it.
The nonlinear style of Cold Day in Hell and the changing perspective from third to first-person that Richard Hawke uses keeps one’s interest but does make the plot unnecessarily difficult to follow, at least until one gets further into the novel and starts relating and linking together characters and actions previously mentioned. Still, this style admirably serves its intended purpose of keeping the reader hooked and wanting to read more, as it does, for instance, in books like Prior Bad Acts by Tami Hoag, The Watchman by Robert Crais, and perhaps most famously thus far, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
The only other peeve I have with Cold Day in Hell is that nowhere in the book is the title mentioned; no character says something like: “It’ll be a cold day in Hell when....” There’s no direct quote of the title anywhere I saw, at least; only here and there the word “Hell,” by itself, and a mention that Fritz Malone’s mother raised him in the part of New York City then known as Hell’s Kitchen. It’s wintertime in the novel, so that takes care of the “cold,” part, I suppose. Still, Cold Day in Hell is a good continuation of the Fritz Malone series, which I recommend to everyone who loves the mystery genre and books that make you want to keep reading until late into the night. I’m looking forward to reading more from the pen of Richard Hawke in the future.