Heat 2

I don’t love sequels. This shouldn’t be a surprise for regular readers, but to quote the late great William Goldman, the impetus for a great movie “is always this: creative. The pulse for a sequel is always this: financial. So they are never of a similar quality.” Of course, attempts to boil storytelling down to a simple rule are probably doomed to failure, and there are always exceptions to this rule. Fortunately Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner’s Heat 2, a novelized sequel to Mann’s 1995 movie Heat, is one such exception.

Heat 2 book cover

Technically, this novel is both a sequel and a prequel. It picks up right where Heat left off, with Chris Shiherlis (played by Val Kilmer in the movie) on the run from the police, led by robbery-homicide detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). But the story also flashes back to 1988, with Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) leading his crew on a daring raid of a cartel stash house. There are naturally new characters abound, on both sides of the law, some seemingly familiar (such as a Waingro-esque villain that seemingly has 9 lives) and some completely new.

While it is telling that I felt the need to include the actors who portrayed the characters in the original movie, I do suspect that this novel could work pretty well even if you haven’t seen the movie. Still, having the actors and their memorable performances in mind certainly does add to the experience. Mann and Gardiner are able to reprise the characters in a consistent and meaningful manner. Everyone acts mostly like you’d expect them to act, though that doesn’t mean they’re completely static and unchanging either. Both Neil and Chris go through dramatic character arcs throughout the book.

I’m always curious about how collaboratively authored novels like this come about. In this case, I’m suspecting that Mann had the overall story beats mapped out (probably long before he even made Heat), but that Gardiner handled the nuts and bolts of the composition. I had read a few of Gardiner’s other thrillers before, and this certainly represents a step up in terms of procedural detail. I’m guessing more time was spent on research here than usual (or that Mann’s got a deep repository of contacts and anecdotes that Gardiner could explore.) This is all speculation though.

Whatever the case, the collaboration was a fruitful one. The novel captures the film’s aesthetic well. The cold, urban, professional atmosphere set in a visual form can’t be easy to capture in prose, so this is a genuine accomplishment. As a procedural process junkie, the detailed way each organization operates is much appreciated, and there are a variety of different organizations portrayed, on both sides of the law. These aren’t carbon copies of the heists or investigations in the movie, but they retain a similar flavor of professionalism and competence that always works for me. There are some interpersonal relationships that are also peppered throughout, which helps retain the human element. Think of Hanna’s question in the diner: “What are you, a monk?” Mann and Gardiner may be more focused on the mechanics of the plot, but they don’t forget that they’re portraying human beings here.

The sequel/prequel nature of the story is a little unclear at first, but the timelines are woven together well in the end, with some well crafted crossovers that keep you wired into the whole world that Mann created. There are some nits that could be picked, I suppose. Some of the dialogue can be over-the-top or cheesy at times, but that’s also right in line with the movie and it’s one of the things that becomes endearing after a while (is Pacino’s performance overly hammy in the movie? Yes, and also I love it and wouldn’t change it in a million years). There are a lot of descriptions about the adrenaline rush these folks experience when in the midst of their work that can get a bit repetitive, but again, this basically just became endearing to me.

There are rumors that this will be made into a movie, but I am a little more skeptical of that project than the novel. It turns out that this book was kinda the perfect way to do a prequel and/or sequel to Heat. I’d worry that recasting these parts would be too difficult given how iconic the original performances were. On the other hand, I would love to see the cartel stash house/hotel rat maze action set piece. It probably won’t be as great as the original Heat gunfight, but that’s an unbelievably high bar and this would be different enough that it could work.

Ultimately, this book is something of a miracle. A lot of this shouldn’t work anywhere near as well as it does, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t completely wrapped up in the story almost immediately. I tried to ration it and didn’t want it to end, which is always a sign of a great read. If you’re a fan of Heat, this comes highly recommended. Fans of pulp fiction, crime, cops & robbers type stories would also get a kick out of this as well. I loved it, and am curious to see where Gardiner goes next (and Mann too, for that matter).

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