The Vulture starts like any good crime thriller, with a corpse and a question: ‘Who Killed John-Lee?’ From there, we roll back a year to the summer of 1968 in New York.
It’s at this point that you’d normally be introduced to the cop with the troubled past and the less than conventional methods that are overlooked because, by God he gets results. Instead, we get Spade, a young kid trying to find his way in a city rife with Heroin addiction and racial prejudice.
The pacing makes a refreshing change from the boring formula that you find in crime thrillers on charity shop bookshelves everywhere. For most of the book I forgot about the murder mystery and it was just a novel about what it was like to be a black kid in 1960’s New York.
Each character brings a new angle to the argument and most of them are pretty well-rounded, but a few are just cardboard cut-out stereotypes that could have been written by a middle aged white man scripting a racial awareness cartoon for kids. Gil Scott-Heron’s attempt at creating an intellectual character is by far his worst. His nickname is IQ and he speaks almost exclusively in quotes from his literary heroes which quickly gets old. By the end, I think Gil-Scott Heron was just boasting about the books he’d read.
Like his songs and poetry, Gil Scott-Heron uses a very on the nose writing style that would normally put me off. It’s a bit hit and miss, but it’s mostly alright. If you’re already a fan then you’ll probably get along with it, but if you aren’t, you might find him a little jarring. Great lines like ‘God put black people on earth to blow bush and take a lot of shit, and white people were for drinking beer and dying of boredom’ made me laugh, but they’re all too often sandwiched between some plain weird stuff. The sex scenes, which frequently feature the phrase ‘love tunnel’, reminded me of a fourteen year old virgin boasting to his mates in the playground about the girl he ‘shagged on holiday.’
When it came to the conclusion, there was a reveal, but it didn’t rely on shock value. It almost felt like we’d both forgotten about the murder mystery element and he shoehorned in a rushed ending. It still works because the meat of the book isn’t really about that, but it still felt a bit weird. Overall, it was pretty good, but not as amazing as I’d hoped it would be.