Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold
Myriad characters populate three intertwined stories in this colorful novel, the first from author Tim Chapman. Chapman, a former forensic scientist for the Chicago Police Department, has followed the golden rule of fiction: Write what you know.
Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold revolves around Sean McKinney, a forensic scientist who gets himself entangled in a series of murders. Only McKinney recognizes a potential link among the murders, brutal, torturing deaths of elderly victims. Aside from a shoeprint, little seems to connect the victims—or their murderer. But it soon becomes apparent that the victims have much more in common than footwear.
Chapman weaves together three stories: McKinney’s as well as the story of Delroy and Lucille, who struggle to make ends meet in 1930s Chicago, and of Gilbert, a hungry, desperate thief who will stop at nothing to uncover a treasure trove of gold coins. It’s obvious from the beginning of the novel that the stories will, somehow, intersect. The reveal, however, comes somewhat predictably and with only the slightest twist.
Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold is a short book and a quick read. Chapman has done a nice job with pacing, though some readers may find the numerous characters more than a handful to keep track of. The story encompasses a lot of things: thriller, historical novel, love story. The author weaves together elements of forensic science, law, police work, Depression-era history, office politics, gangster crime, murder, serial killers, family relationships, divorce, dating … the list goes on and on.
On the one hand, there’s something here for just about anyone. Chapman has painted a rich story that captures human elements on many levels. On the other hand, the book may be trying to do too many things at once. There’s rather a lot to keep track of for such a short novel. The story may have been improved by eliminating some elements in favor of more deeply exploring others. Dropping the romance between the main character and his neighbor, for instance, might have allowed the author to draw a richer picture of Depression-era Chicago and to explore more closely the links between the family in that aspect of the story with McKinney’s contemporary family.
Multiple plotlines aside, this is a commendable effort. McKinney shows a genuine knack for painting scenes with rich color and believable dialog. Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold is an easy, worthwhile read that makes a fine impression without taxing the reader.
Allium Press of Chicago
$14.99, trade paperback, 222 pages
—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen