Cold Shoulder by Lynda La Plante
It’s April 1988 in Los Angeles when a police officer, on duty and under the influence of alcohol, shoots dead a young boy as she sees him pull a gun from his jacket. The ‘gun’, on closer inspection, is a Sony Walkman. So begins the steady unraveling of the life of Lieutenant Lorraine Page, who in short order loses her job, her marriage and the custody of her two daughters. We leave her late one night, drinking alone in a downtown bar.
All of this happens in the tightly-written, unsettling prologue that opens Cold Shoulder, the first book, originally published in 1994, in Lynda La Plante’s ‘Cold’ trilogy. The first chapter picks up Lorraine’s story six years later; we find her older, battle-scarred from living rough and working sporadically as a prostitute, and nearly dead from the combination of alcohol addiction and a recent hit-and-run. Her recovery sees her temporarily committed to a psychiatric hospital, then a rehabilitation centre, where she meets Rosie Hurst, a recovering alcoholic who takes Lorraine under her wing and into her home.
Despite Rosie’s efforts to draw her to AA meetings, the destitute Lorraine is still far from the straight path. On a whim one afternoon, she gets in a car with a john and takes his money, but changes her mind at the last minute. Before she can disentangle herself and get out of the passenger seat, he bashes her in the back of the head with a claw-footed hammer.
Badly injured, she escapes, leaving behind a couple of crucial witnesses. Shortly afterwards, police find the car – with the owner dead in the boot from apparent hammer wounds to the back of the head. The same modus operandi is quickly linked to a spate of killings of young women. It quickly becomes evident to investigators that a serial killer is on the loose, and to the reader alone that Lorraine, a talented investigator in her day, may be the only person who can identify him.
It isn’t long before Lorraine, taking tentative steps toward sobriety, is reunited with her former partner, and the dual plots – police procedural, Lorraine’s search for redemption – fully merge.
La Plante has penned bestselling 14 novels and many scripts for television, of which the best-known are the incomparable Prime Suspects. Cold Shoulder, with its alcoholic-cop heroine (who also features in the follow-ups, Cold Blood (1996), and Cold Heart (1998)) could be expected to draw comparison, a natural curse of having invented a character as indelible and formidable as Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison.
But La Plante’s writing is nothing if not fearless, and the doughty Lorraine Page – whose pain and fear are depicted with often agonizing immediacy – lingers in the mind long after the pedestrian crime story has been resolved. It is not only Cold Shoulder’s denseness, at 470 pages, that precludes its being characterized as a light afternoon read. La Plante’s creation of a striking lead, a woman by turns repellent and admirable, someone who kills a harmless boy and chooses the bottle over her children but is impossible to turn away from, makes Cold Shoulder a transporting experience.
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz