|Cover illustration by Derek McKay,|
from the series commissioned
by Abram Games.
Things seem to be awry in Philadelphia in the 1950s. It is suggested here that the police have been co-opted to protect the criminals while they distort the efficient functioning of the administration. It means that someone like Mike Laguna can live in an expensive house in a middle-class suburb with a policeman permanently stationed outside his home, protecting his interests and those of his family, while he continues unimpeded as the head of the mob controlling the city. Every citizen bears the burden of such a corrupted system, as mob-controlled tenders and workplaces mean inferior but overpriced goods, shoddy workmanship, and public assets which deteriorate faster than they should, while costing more.
The Big Heat is in some ways an examination of exactly what it is that allows such a system to develop and then keeps it in place. It is suggested to be a consequence of the interaction of several factors - an uninquiring media, an apathetic population content to be saved from the need to take any action by a belief that all politicians and administrators are as bad as each other. It is also requires the willingness of those occupying high positions to allow their influence to be bought. And it is underpinned by a kind of defensive group-think in which those serving the public, such as the police, reflexively reject the views of anyone who condemns their actions or seeks to hold them accountable.
This story provides a contrast with the contemporary D.A. stories of Erle Stanley Gardner, such as The D.A. Calls a Turn and The. D.A. Holds a Candle, in that this is not quite the story of one honest and courageous man standing up for what is right. It reads, instead, as a call to action - an assertion that everyone must be willing to take a stand against corruption, if the problem is to be solved.