Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bill Morris: Motor City Burning (2014)

Bill Morris' Motor City Burning, a 320-page novel, (2014) immerses readers in the taut milieu of 1968 Detroit. Chronologically, it generally follows the contours of the Detroit Tigers' season from opening day -- delayed because of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis -- to the Tigers' final victory in the World's Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. If one looks at a 1968 calendar, that covers from April to October. The baseball season is part of the novel's structural backdrop; the effects of the Detroit Riot during the "Summer of Love" (1967) are also prominent in the unfolding of its noirish plot. Morris focuses on two dudes -- Frank Doyle, a Detroit detective, and Willie Bledsoe, a disillusioned civil rights activist from Alabama. Willie and his brother, a veteran sniper back from the US-Vietnam War (evidently suffering from PTSD), were in Detroit together during the '67 riot; they are somehow both connected to an unsolved homicide. Much drama ensues.

Interesting details peppered throughout the novel are worth the whole shebang. Along the way, one catches the '68 Detroit vibe, race-tinged interactions, class differences and structural changes in the city and suburbs. And then there's the just cracking gender code in the age of Mad Men

The only hokey thing about Motor City Burning: the two main female characters, one involved with detective Doyle and the other with Bledsoe. They are fantasy figures, the kind you might expect in a James Bond tale -- only not as lethal. There's a third woman who is a spitting image of Mrs. Robinson, which may be an inside joke since The Graduate was playing in American theaters in 1968. 

Motor City Burning is much better at showing male interactions within the Detroit police department and among people facing them on home turf and in business establishments (including blind pigs and other underground facilities). The "big four" police attack squads are something right out of the harrowing FX crime series, The Shield; their activities and other dodgy practices and belief systems go a long way in shedding light on racial and class tensions in Detroit and elsewhere in the USA, then and now. 

Today's Rune: Strength.          


jodi said...

Erik- I've read a couple of 'Detroit" books, but not this one-yet!

the walking man said...

The Big 4 were a very real unit. Once they knew your name, white or black you were stopped every single time. Just so they could stretch.

I guess this guy may have gotten some of it right, i was there so I look at books telling a story of those Detroit days with a jaundiced eye.

I still say it was not a riot as much as it was revolt against the police and administration of the day.

It WAS NOT a blind pig in 1967 where the riots started but two patrol cops in the predominantly black area of 12th and Clairmont thought what they saw was a BP, but when they went in)dumb asses) they found they were two little white caps in a sea of black waves, holding a WELCOME HOME party for two black draftee's just back from Nam. The cops freaked and called for back up instead of just leaving and it was that pivotal call that changed Detroit's history forever. As they were hauling the party goers out the neighborhood exploded.

The following year the awesome anger and tension had been mostly burned out, Detroit did not riot at MLK assassination. The burned out neighborhood had been left untouched by the white city administration which did nothing to clear the area for 15 years.

Naw I'll pass, I lived through that mess, from 67-69 as a teenager. why fictionalize the truth when the truth tells its own compelling story?

Charles Gramlich said...

Detroit once won a championship in a sport? My word! :) Sorry, couldn't resist. Sounds like a pretty interesting book. I'll have to have a look

Barbara Bruederlin said...

A fascinating time in the life (and death) of a fascinating city. Thanks for this.