Tag Archives: Philip Gourevitch

“A Cold Case” by Philip Gourevitch

I don’t do many book reviews, partly because I tend to buy most of my books second-hand from the local Hospice shop, and therefore they are no longer shiny, new and topical when I read them. But I reckon the story of a dedicated police detective solving a 27 year-old murder is, in its way, timeless, and so I will review it here – even though it was a rather tatty paperback copy I bought for R10.coldcase

It is a short book (my copy is 182 pages) and its sparse prose flows easily; I read it almost in one sitting, as did a person I lent it to. The facts tell of a detective who is about to retire but who is determined to finally solve a 27 year murder, but the beauty of the book is it unfolds as a series of portraits of the main characters, the cop, the lawyer, eventually the killer, as well as various side characters. And it is written by  New Yorker staff writer Gourevitch who has a superb ear for dialogue, and whose prose is at once poetic and down-to-earth.

The idea of a cold case is familiar from various television series and movies, but the fact is that most murders will “fall through the cracks” if not solved quickly, and it takes the dogged determination of a particular somebody to go back and slowly trawl through the clues, through the evidence, to track down old witnesses, to retest alibis, to see if testimony changes with time, to find discrepancies, to retrace footsteps, to knock on doors of people who had long since moved on with their lives. In this case the determined particular someone is Detective Rosenzweig, and Gourevitch brings him to life as a hard-boiled streetsmart detective but also a romantic who truly believes he needs to solve each and every crime that crosses his desk. He is quotes a homicide detective he once worked who said “Who speaks for the dead ? Nobody. As a rule, nobody speaks for the dead,unless we do”. This, it seems, could be Rosenzweig’s own mantra.

Highly recommended if you like your prose sparse and business-like.

(Gourevitch also wrote the more famous “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda”)