Archive for April, 2013

This is a superlative crime novel that also very sensitively presents the prejudice faced by blacks in the deeply conservative southern states of America as recently as the mid 1900s. In today’s globalised and constantly politically-corrected world, it is hard to imagine the deep racism that was commonplace and widespread in supposedly “cultured” regions of the world. Reality is stated to be often worse than fiction, but reality is also a hard pill to swallow whereas couching the same message in the form of an interesting novel has the double benefit of keeping the reader engrossed while still effectively conveying the impact of the discrimination.

In the Heat of the Night deals with just such treatment faced by Virgil Tibbs, a black man who finds himself booked on a murder charge while waiting to catch a train in the small town of Wells. The cops need someone to pin a recent murder on and he’s the only person out and about in the middle of the night, even if he was only quietly waiting in the “colored” waiting room of the railway station. His skin colour is sufficient conviction for the local cops to pin the murder on him. This idea quickly turns on its head when they realise that he is not only a cop on his way home to California, but that he is also a highly respected homicide investigator. The local cops grudgingly allow him to investigate the murder, a task that Virgil takes up fully aware that he could be the fall guy in case he fails to nab the killer. His job is all the more difficult given the extent of open discrimination he has to put up with, even from the cops themselves. But in the end his quiet efficiency and effective use of tact & diplomacy brings about a change in the attitudes of the people he deals with.

Its easy to forget that what we have here is also a very well framed crime story, one that would be just as captivating even if the chief protagonist were a regular guy. By mixing in the elements of racism & having a lead detective who has to perform with one hand tied behind his back, the author has managed to present a story that goes far beyond what we expect from a regular crime thriller. For those who have felt the sting of racism in any form, this book will evoke some strong memories, but for those that have been lucky enough to have evaded it, In The Heat of the Night can provide a thoughtful insight into a hopefully dying trend while also quenching their thirst for a first-rate mystery.

A must-read book.


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