We gave it a B
What Ann Landers is to adultery, Edna Buchanan is to murder. Vivid, concise, and terribly sure of her opinions, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Miami Herald crime reporter clearly relishes her job. She even volunteers to work holidays. ”I like to write holiday stories, reporting on how the rest of Miami celebrates,” she confides in Never Let Them See You Cry, the brisk sequel to The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, her best-selling book of true tales from the police beat. ”There is always news: Big families get together. Some turn on each other, and the shooting starts. On the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve they play with guns and fireworks, and somebody always gets hurt. On Memorial Day and Labor Day they get drunk and careen around in high-powered speedboats. Kids race out of the house early on Christmas morning to try out new skates and bicycles. Still shaky on their new wheels, some encounter motorists hung over from the night before.”
All the carnage and misery, in turn, bring out Buchanan’s best. To hear her tell it, the New Jersey native fell in love with Miami at first glance. ”Seeing the city for the first time was like coming home,” she writes, ”and the love affair endures. The hot-blooded heartbeat of this passionate and mercurial city touches my soul.” Newspaper staples like the heroic dog, the runaway elephant, and the adopted child seeking her ”real” family never fail to attract Buchanan. But nothing turns her on like homicide — the seamier and more senseless the better.
The body count in Never Let Them See You Cry would be hard to estimate, but you can be sure that no Dirty Harry or Lethal Weapon movie even comes close. Some killings, preferably those involving doomed love affairs, get the full Buchanan treatment. Others merely offer the self-designated ”conscientious objector in the war between the sexes” opportunities for her brand of gallows humor. ”A local electrician delicately attached wires to the wrist and ankles of his sleeping wife and killed her with a massive jolt of electricity,” Buchanan notes dryly. ”The spark had gone out of their marriage.” The one about the would-be wife killer who hopped to his getaway car after his spouse swiped his artificial leg knocks her out too.
But if Buchanan’s a cynic about love, she’s a great believer in her own ability to mete out justice. ”Given the straight story,” she assures us, ”people DO care.” Meddling editors, therefore, earn her scorn — along with the incompetent or corrupt judges, hypocritical defense lawyers, pussyfooting psychiatrists, and spineless prosecutors who make up her sizable enemies list. (Although she does approve of one judge who favors tight skirts and stiletto heels, keeps a model electric chair in her chambers, and once flashed her gams at a convicted rapist, enjoining him to ”Take a good look at these, pal. They’re the last ones you’ll be seeing for a long, long time.”)
Cops, on the other hand, are invariably portrayed as selfless heroes. Judging by Never Let Them See You Cry, the Miami Metro PD is populated exclusively by Eagle Scouts, and all suspects are guilty as charged. After a while Buchanan’s bitter irony begins to sound almost smug, and even halfway skeptical readers will wonder at times whether or not they’re getting the whole story. Highly diverting, however, in small doses. B