Monday, March 20, 2023

Books I've read: HEAT 2

Caveat: these off the cuff posts are for me and are more book report than analysis. I found that I was reading several dozen books a year, but I was not retaining much. So, these "Books I've Read" posts were a way for me to job my memory and possibly retain more about what I've been reading than has recently been the case. I would certainly prefer, at some point, to transition more into analysis rather than regurgitation mode, but only time will tell if I reach that goal. So, with that, another book I've read...

Heat 2, written by Michael Mann & Meg Gardiner. This book was a complete surprise to me. Sure, I'm a huge fan of Michael Mann's films -- Last of the Mohicans is one of my all-time favorites -- but how would his work translate to the printed page? The answer, with the understanding that he co-wrote this with an award-winning novelist, Meg Gardiner, is wonderfully!
Prior to reading this, I watched Heat again, for the first time in a long time. That. Is a good movie. And the story slides directly from the end of the movie into the start of this book. 

It is 1995, and we follow Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) as he tries to recuperate enough to get out of L.A., with the help of Nate (Jon Voight). Of course, Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) is still on the hunt for Chris, the only member of Neil McCauley's (Robert Deniro's) crew to get away, at the end of the movie. So, his recuperation time won't be as long as necessary; Nate needs to get Chris out of the city, and out of the country, fast. And he sends Chris south, to Paraguay. There, Chris hooks up with a Taiwanese crime family, the Liu family, in the city of Ciudad del Este. Chris knows he needs to go along to get along, that Nate has called in a favor to get him in with this family, and he remains lowkey, does his job, and watches -- seeing the daughter of the crime boss, Ana, get the short end of the stick, since her brother, Felix, is in line to take over, even though she's the one with the intelligence, the ambition, and the backbone needed to keep the family moving forward in the high stakes life of international crime. Chris falls for her, of course, even as he pines away for Charlene and their young son, back in the states. 

Mann & Gardiner take us back to Chicago, to seven years before Heat, to Neil McCauley and his crew, including Chris and Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore), as they rob banks in the greater Chicago area. This is where Lt. Vincent Hanna is stationed, at this time, but his eyes isn't on Neil's crew, he's trailing a vile piece of trash, Otis Wardell (though Hanna doesn't know his name), who likes to do home invasions, when the rich families are home, and rape and beat the members of the family, in some power hungry show of his alpha male, big-balls machismo. 

There's a guy in Chicago, who has an auto repair business, where Neil gets his cars for his jobs: clean, with papers, and average looking. The man does good work, and Neil pays him well and shows him respect. Too bad for him, Otis Wardell also uses this guy for his vehicles, and Wardell doesn't like the idea of another guy getting special treatment from the man he sees as his car guy. A bit on the paranoid side, Wardell starts trying to find out who Neil is, what his jobs are, and how he can get him out of the way. Wardell is an evil mutherf*&#er. And Neil is completely oblivious to his existence. 

Neil and his crew are successful with their latest heist, allowing Chris to return to wooing a Vegas call girl he recently met, Charlene (Ashley Judd), while Neil returns to his girlfriend, Elisa, and her daughter, Gabriela. They have a good life, as good a life as one can have when you're living on the other side of the law. Neil is a caring father figure to Gabriela, a good man to Elisa; they have plans of settling down, properly, eventually. 

Back in 1995, Chris is becoming more comfortable and more familiar with the Liu family business, and he begins to offer some insights into their dealings, which are welcomed by the patriarch, David Liu. As Chris rises in esteem with Mr. Liu and becomes closer to his daughter, Ana, he and Ana start to consider the possibility of her breaking stereotype -- or forcing her father to set aside stereotype -- and ascending to the top rung. But, of course, that isn't going to happen. Ana is a young woman. In Taiwanese culture, she isn't afforded such opportunity. But maybe there's a way to break off from her family and do her own thing, using the dark web. 

Neil stumbles upon what could be a huge payday for him and his crew, the weekly money train for the drug cartels, which is coordinated just over the border in northern Mexico. It will take some planning, but the complacent confidence of the setup spurs him to the belief that it's very doable. And, with Elisa -- who comes from a long line of border smugglers, and who knows many of the camouflaged trails utilized for such subterfuge -- by his side, Neil knows he has an ace in the hole. Of course, Neil needs vehicles to pull this heist off, including one very special one, a longbed trailer for hauling cars, which Otis Wardell happens to spy when he arrives at the auto shop just as Neil is leaving. Even more intrigued now, Wardell decides he wants to find out what this other crew is doing and take them down. 

Meanwhile, Lt. Hanna has managed to discern how Wardell targets his victims, from his investigation of the latest home invasion, and he has a lead on Wardell's next victims. But they need to move fast. Hanna races to the home of the next victims with his guys, Casals and Drucker. They manage to take out some of Wardell's guys, but in the ensuing bloodbath, which leaves Hanna wounded in the leg, Wardell manages to slip away. But now he knows that the police are on to him, and he needs to get out of town. But he needs to know about Neil McCauley's job. So he beats his car guy just to the point of death, to pry away what he can from the guy about McCauley's plan, and then he leaves him hanging to die in his auto repair shop. And Wardell heads south

The heist with the cartel money goes off . . . with some hitches. Two of the evening guards show up early and discover their compatriots either dead or tied up. They try to stop Neil and his crew, but they do manage to get away with the money, after a bloody firefight. But, Wardell has discovered the car hauler he saw in Chicago and brings his own crew to the safehouse at the point when Neil and his crew are out on the heist. Elisa's uncle, and her daughter, are in the house (though Gabriela is hidden in the bedroom). Wardell forces Elisa's uncle to call Elisa, and his code words alert her to the danger. She uses the open comms to divert Wardell's crew and races back, only to find Wardell had remained, just in case something wasn't on the up and up. He has killed her uncle and threatens to do the same to her. Elisa sacrifices herself, convincing Wardell she will take him to Neil, while letting her daughter know that she needs to run as soon as she and this evil man are gone. 

Neil, too, understands what is going on from what Elisa says to him, as she and Wardell leave. He races to the trail she showed him one evening, to set up an ambush for whoever it is that has Elisa, while Chris and the others also race to join them. Neil takes out the rest of the crew in their vehicles, but Wardell, with Elisa in her car, manages to get out and put Elisa between him and Neil, forcing Neil to stand down. That is when Wardell shoots Elisa, fatally wounding her, diverting Neil's attention, and allowing Wardell to escape in the car Neil drove here with, a car filled with 3 million dollars. Chris and the rest of the crew arrive too late. Elisa is dead. They need to get away an lay low. And Gabriela needs to learn to live life without a mother. 

From this experience came Neil's mantra: "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner."

The year 2000. 5 years after Neil was shot by Hanna. 12 years after Neil lost Elisa and Hanna lost Wardell. 'And all the chickens come home to roost.'

Chris and Ana are working toward making something for themselves, outside of Ana's family. Except she cannot get out from under their thumb, especially now that her father has joined forces with their rival in Ciudad del Este. But Chris has ideas, and he and Ana go to Los Angeles, so that Nate can put them in touch with Kelso, the computer whiz who always helped Neil with darkweb stuff. 

Meanwhile, Wardell, who moved to L.A. with the 3 million dollars he found in Neil's car, is about to come out from under the rock where he's been hiding, when a waitress at a diner acts oddly around him -- agitated, as if she knows who he is. Which she does, because this waitress is Gabriela, now a college student in L.A. 

And Lt. Hanna is still a part of the Los Angeles police force. And he still has a hard-on for Wardell, the one who got away. 

The way Mann & Gardiner bring all the players back together, five years later, for the final act of this novel is elegant and sublime and does not feel at all forced. It's a testament to their storytelling skills how easily everything fits into place, continuing on from what has come before. And the tension rises as Hanna discovers Wardell is in town and making mistakes, as Gabriela realizes that Wardell is after her, as Chris and Ana try to find a way to get out from under her family's strictures, and as Chris decides, finally, that Charlene is all right in her new life without him and channels the disappointment of that realization into finding and killing Lt. Hanna once and for all, for the death of his best friend, Neil. 

The final chapters of this book are thrilling, as we, the reader, watch from the outside while these people we've come to know so well fumble toward the bloody climax. And the ultimate car chase along the L.A. highway, as Wardell takes Gabriela with Hanna in pursuit, is almost as exhilarating as if Michael Mann had gotten a chance to shoot it on film. This book really is a tour-de-force of crime fiction and a fitting sequel to one of the best crime films ever. 

Definitely watch HEAT again, and once you hit the end credits crack open HEAT 2 and start reading. You will not be disappointed. 


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