I’ve read most of the books in S.J. Rozan’s Lydia Chin and Bill Smith series, but somehow I’d missed 2002’s Winter and Night, despite the fact that it won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Rozan took an extended break from her series—there was an 8-year gap between 2011’s Ghost Hero and Paper Son, which came out just a couple of months ago (it’s on my TBR shelf).
One of the unique things about Rozan’s series is that each book is narrated by one of her two sleuths; “Lydia books” would alternate with “Bill books.” Winter and Night is a “Bill book,” and those tend to be a little more noir. Lydia’s stories always contain some comic relief from her force-of-nature mother, whom Lydia lives with in New York’s Chinatown. Winter and Night is pretty heavy going, without any breaks for levity.
It’s also one of those “This time it’s personal!” novels, as Bill’s 15-year-old nephew turns up in New York, picked up by the cops for trying to mug a drunk. Bill has been estranged from his sister and her family, so he hasn’t been a part of Gary’s life; however, he takes the boy back to his apartment, hoping to get him to confide why he ran away from home. “I need to do something,” is as much as he can get out of him before Gary manages to make a break for it.
Bill and Lydia go on the hunt for the teen, which brings them to the football-mad New Jersey town where he and his family had been living for the past few months. Gary was on the team, which made him part of the in crowd in Warrenstown; with a big game coming up, it seemed like a particularly inopportune time for him to disappear.
As the two private eyes are searching for the boy, the body of one of his high school classmates is discovered, and the local cops naturally assume that Gary killed her and went on the run. Meanwhile, Bill’s brother-in-law, Scott, is absolutely furious with Bill for what he sees as unwelcome interference in his family’s personal business.
At its heart, Winter and Night is a meditation on men and violence, both on the football field and in real life. Bill and Scott wind up in confrontations several times, which drives them both to peaks of rage: “Our eyes locked; in the color flaring in his face, the thrust of his shoulders, I could see how ready he was to explode. I clamped my jaw shut to keep from saying words to set him off, because part of me wanted that to happen, wanted him to rush me, wanted to fight Scott Russell right here, now, in my own place… Scott wanted what I wanted right now and I knew it. To hit, kick, beat someone down, exhaust yourself. To take the fear and helpless rage and turn them into something you can tell yourself you’re proud of. To force someone to betray himself, to make him fail. To win. To prove you’re really there.”
Winter and Night is very much of its time; it took me back to the days when every private eye had to have a hacker or two on retainer to dig up information that could now probably be found by anyone with a Facebook account and Google. Bill is also addicted to his ever-present flip phone. At almost 400 pages, this is a hefty read, but it’s well-written and thoughtful, and while the technology has changed, many of its themes continue to resonate today.