A Cold Case
In his first book, Philip Gourevitch investigated 800,000 murders. ”We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families” — a best-seller, a prize-winner — was a vivid report on the genocidal crimes of the Rwandan government. In his second book, he investigates only two killings, but with the same expert eye. Its title, A Cold Case, calls to mind ”In Cold Blood,” Truman Capote’s sensational 1965 account of a murder in Holcomb, Kan. While that masterpiece invariably influenced Gourevitch, he’s on to something other than Capote’s sprawling American gothicism. ”A Cold Case” is a sliver of humanistic noir. Imagine a ”Law & Order” episode written by Graham Greene and directed by the photographer Weegee.
But is ”A Cold Case” worth your 22 bucks? The book is lean. A dozen photos grace its 182 pages. Thirteen of those pages are blank. Four others contain only quotations, and those quotes come in several shades of irrelevance. More damaging: For every two digressions that illuminate a character, there’s one with the spongy texture of padding. While the tale about the cop — a friend of the policeman central to the tale, Andy Rosenzweig — who preferred shooting himself in the head to ratting out corrupt colleagues could be a riveting book in itself, here, merely an anecdote, it’s a non sequitur.
Such asides aside, the details dazzle. The fact that perp Frankie Koehler met his armed robbery accomplice at a Times Square movie house showing ”Gun Crazy” (tag line: ”Thrill Crazy, Kill Crazy”) is perfect neon serendipity. It thrills because it is a fact, because of the garish glow it casts on the story of a cop and a hood, each driven by screen fiction, heading toward each other in the daylight of reality. Like they say, you can’t make this stuff up.