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The Lost Witness, Robert Ellis, St. Martin’s, $7.99.


The ground and my heart are littered with the corpses of great police procedurals now gone out of print.  Lynn Hightower, K.J. Erickson, Lee Martin, Barbara D’Amato, Leslie Glass - those are some of my faves.  I know there’s a guy named Connelly writing pretty decent procedurals, but I enjoy the array, and as is the case with (most of) the above mentioned writers, I enjoy a good female protaganist.

This brings me, then, to Robert Ellis, who writes LA police novels with a female protaganist.  While Ellis doesn’t dive into the domestic side of things the way some of the authors named above do, his Lena Gamble is still a dandy character, and Ellis knows how to tell a story.  This is the second book in his Lena Gamble series, the first one, City of Fire, being just as entertaining.

Because of some of the events from the first book, Lena is a bit on the outs with the department, and they hand her a case that not only looks impossible, but the brass tells her to work it alone, and they let her know they’ll be watching her every move.  Her thoughts run this way: “There was no place in a murder investigation for micro managers or know-it-alls.  That crimes were created in the imagination and that’s where they were solved.”  The crime coming her way is a pretty gruesome one, involving a prostitute who was murdered and disposed of in a pretty terrible way.

Ellis weaves many plot threads together to create his story.  One is the plot-lines involves Lena’s bosses, and her sometime partner, Rhodes, who ends up working the case with her.  One involves the detectives’ hunt for the identity of the dead girl.  One involves some very high level LA players, including a senator, a wealthy CEO and his wayward son, a prominent pediatrician, and one a rogue killer whose ties to any of the others is unknown.  As suggested by the quote above, Lena often works with her gut and instincts to help her find a crack in the case. Some of her best leads come from working closely with the medical examiner, who works much the same way Lena does.

There’s also an interesting riff on cell phones, with Lena positing that since people are always on their phones, creativity is way down, as many of the best thoughts come as you’re driving back and forth to work, locked in your car with nothing but your thoughts.  Being set in LA this is an especially car and traffic driven story.  Regardless of how Lena makes the breaks in her case, the story is well thought out and put together with plenty of good surprises and twists along the way to a satisfactory ending.  While I wouldn’t place this author in the same class as some of the authors I named above, this is still a terrifically entertaining read.

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