Review: Slick crime novel ‘Heat 2’ revisits a classic movie

“Heat 2: A Novel” by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner (William Morrow)

Hollywood screenwriter and director Michael Mann and veteran thriller writer Meg Gardiner have achieved a rarity with their novel “Heat 2”: a screen-to-page sequel that stands tall on its own.

When the screen goes dark at the end of Mann’s 1995 crime drama “Heat,” professional thief Neil McCauley (played by Robert De Niro) and most of his crew are dead, put in their graves either by police or rivals. The sole survivor, a wounded Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), leaves behind his wife and son to avoid capture.

The Los Angeles Police Department is bloodied, too, by a broad-daylight firefight outside a downtown bank. A robbery-homicide division detective, Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), has shot and killed McCauley mano-a-mano near the L.A. airport. Hanna had felt an affinity for McCauley, both professionals who sacrifice their personal lives to be true to themselves. They understood and respected each other.

In “Heat 2” Mann and Gardiner return to these complex and compelling characters — McCauley, Shiherlis and Hanna — but watching the movie first isn’t a must to enjoy the book, just a pleasure.

What can happen with one character dead, one on the lam and one emotionally drained? Mann and Gardiner play with time, weaving prequel tales for McCauley and Hanna with a present-day storyline for Shiherlis and Hanna. But such cleverness doesn’t overlook expanding these characters, and each one gets a new facet to a self-destructive trait: McCauley’s cynicism, Shiherlis’ sensation-seeking and Hanna’s anger.

Slick as a Neil McCauley heist and as intense as a Vincent Hanna chase, “Heat 2” is just dynamite.

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Douglass K. Daniel is the author of “Anne Bancroft: A Life” (University Press of Kentucky).

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