Officer Down, Theresa Schwegel, St. Martin's Minotaur, $6.99.
"The last thing I need to worry about is you acting like Nancy Drew with a drinking problem." - from Officer Down
One of the great things about mystery fiction is that it's constantly evolving, and with all that evolution, some truly original voices are going to appear. One of them seems to be Theresa Schwegel, whose first novel, Officer Down, won an Edgar. Told in the first person, it's the story of female cop Samantha Mack - or "Smack" to her co-workers - and her tribulations as she deals with the case from hell. Her ex boyfriend - a married cop named Fred - ends up assigned to patrol with her when she comes in as a substitute for someone else. Fred has his own agenda - a beef with a racist pedophile (can you really blame Fred?) - but the beef takes Fred and Sam into the pedophile's house with no backup. Fred ends up dead, Samantha ends up in the hospital, and no one believes the pedophile was in the house. Everyone instead believes that Sam killed Fred by accident.
Schwegel is a concise writer and this set up only takes a chapter or two, and then we're along with Sam on her stubborn journey to prove her innocence, catch the bad guy, and make it work with her present boyfriend, another married cop named Morgan who is trying to help clear her name. Sam is absolutely the perfect mystery "outsider" - no one at work believes her, Internal Affairs is on her ass, and she's something of a pariah for sleeping with married men. The scene where she avoids Fred's funeral and then goes to his reception is a real tour de force. Schwegel's writing reminds me somewhat of another recent mystery darling, Ken Bruen, but Schwegel doesn't seem to have the same grudge against words that Bruen does and her character is somewhat more firmly anchored in her community. Sometimes Sam even goes to bed sober, unlike Bruen's main character, and to me it makes her book far more accessible. I don't want to revisit Bruen's world; I would revisit Sam's in a heartbeat.
The ending of the novel, a roiling mass of corruption, deception, and plot twists, will be a bit familiar to any reader who is a fan of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books. If the end of the book is a bit predictable, the original start more than makes up for it, and makes me more than willing to give Schwegel's second outing a try.
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