Mute Witness

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Categories: Mystery/Crime
Publisher: RosettaBooks | Date published: 12/09/2002


When famed gangster kingpin Johnny Rossi comes to New York to testify against his crime syndicate associates, it falls to Lieutenant Clancy to keep the government's star witness safe. Why Rossi has come to New York from California, and what is so crucial about his testimony are questions District Attorney Chalmers seems content to keep outside the Lieutenant's purview. However, when guarding Rossi turns out to be a more difficult and perplexing task than Clancy had anticipated, he begins to uncover something much more sinister. This is the premise of Mute Witness, a novel by Edgar Award-winning author Robert L. Pike. What makes this novel so interesting is the character of Clancy. Later immortalized by Steve McQueen in Bullitt, the film version of Mute Witness, Clancy is a tough, jaded and weary detective. He is a lone wolf of sorts, but not by choice; the police officers under his command are almost unfailingly incompetent, and the District Attorney treats Clancy with a mix of skepticism and disdain. Add to this the sinister machinations of underworld bosses and hit men, and Clancy is a man beset on all sides by ineptitude, perfidy and malice. Pike doesn't put his protagonist on a pedestal, though. Clancy is neither incredibly wise nor remarkably principled; what he possesses is common sense, a vague idea of duty, and gritty stoicism. These qualities are sufficient to see him through his tough assignments, and, sadly enough, also sufficient to distinguish him from almost everyone else in the novel. The relentlessness of Clancy's work and the endlessness of his days and nights are emphasized by the chapter breaks, which always keep track of the exact date and time during his round-the-clock work. Clancy is exhausted, and Pike periodically informs us of the scant hours of sleep his protagonist is catching. But no one can be trusted to anything adequately or honestly, so Clancy has little choice. Although his orders are just to guard the marked man Rossi, Clancy, impelled by something more than his fears of losing his job, begins to investigate the questions he is not supposed to ask, let alone answer. He is over his head and working beyond the scope of his duty, but in Pike's world, it is growing alarmingly unclear what his duty even is and to whom he owes it.