Thursday, November 15, 2007

No Colder Place

I read Reflecting the Sky, another in this series, about a year ago. No Colder Place by S.J. Rozan is one of the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mysteries. It won the Anthony Award in 1998.

from the back of the book:
Bill Smith is going undercover again as a favor to an old friend who wants him to investigate thievery on the 40-story Manhattan site of Crowell Construction's latest project. His bricklaying is a little rusty, but passable as he checks out the foreman who's under suspicion. A crane operator has disappeared--along with some heavy machinery. But when a well-orchestrated riot causes the foreman's “accidental” death, Smith plunges into a morass of bribery, blackmail and blood looking for answers. With the help of his Chinese-American partner Lydia Chin, he follows a trail of twisted loyalties, old-fashioned greed and organized crime to its heart-stopping conclusion. Murder - with no end in sight.

The writing in this one pulled me in from the beginning. Here's the first bit:

There's no place colder than a construction site.

An ironworker told me why once, explained the chill that pulls the warmth from your bones while you're working, the wind that blows through steel and concrete carrying the ancient dampness of echoing caves.

He was a welder, used to working the high steel--two hundred feet up and nothing between him and the air above the city but the girder he was on and the harness that, half the time, he didn't wear. He had a leather face and scarred, thick hands. We were sitting over a beer at Shorty's one evening in that time of year when the end of the workday and the start of the night push on each other, when everything feels like it's already too late.

A building going up doesn't live, he said. It grows, like that monster Frankenstein built--hammered, welded, bolted together out of things you bring from other places, things that had their own histories long before they were part of this. It looks like what you want it to be, but it's not. Not yet.

And while it grows, it pulls a little life from each of the men who work on it, making them leave something, something they are, behind.

Then one day, he said, when it's stolen enough life, stored up enough history, it starts to breathe. It begins to live, and living things are warm. You can feel that moment. The deep chill goes, replaced by a cold that's only temperature, no different from anywhere else. It's not a construction site after that. It's a building, the past of its bones and skin part of it, what they are making it what it is, old things in a new place. And the lives of the men who built it giving it life. ?

I don't know if he was right or not. I didn't know him well, and I didn't run across him again. He was getting old, and I was young then. I don't know how much longer he had, or wanted, working the high steel.

But I know there's a bone-chilling cold, and a sense of never being alone in an old and lonely place, on every building site I've ever been on.

This book is focused on the Bill Smith character, whereas Reflecting the Sky featured Lydia Chin. I find it interesting that the partners are developed through the series like that. One of the interesting personal elements is that Bill Smith has a piano and is learning Scriabin Etudes to relax. Here's Scriabin playing Etude Opus 8 No. 12 from a 1910 sound recording:

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