Saturday, February 28, 2009

Andrew Reads: THREE SHIRT DEAL, by Stephen Cannell

Spoilers below.

I'm guessing this is not the first in a series of novels featuring the main character, LAPD Detective Shane Scully. In any event, it's not the last, as the next installment is previewed at the end of this book--but Cannell does a good job of filling the reader in on the relevant backstory with a minimum of fuss/overly clunky exposition.

The relevant backstory in this case is that Scully's wife Alexa, the LA Chief of Detectives, has suffered a brain injury that may have irrevocably changed her personality in such a way that Scully's unsure if their relationship can survive. Holding his marriage together becomes a whole lot harder when he finds himself embroiled in an investigation that has far-reaching implications that might cost his wife her job and him his life.

Truit Hickman is a meth-head tweaker serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison for the murder of his mother. The last thing Scully wants to do is care, but a beautiful internal affairs officer "Scout" Llevar pulls him in--mostly by proving the case against Tru was botched, though a long-standing grudge also serves as a motivation, and a mutual attraction between Scully and Llevar that has him fighting temptation almost as much as he's fighting for justice.

The seemingly simple bad cop explanation for Tru's incarceration turns out to be the first bend in a labyrinthine plot hatched by a criminal conspiracy whose members hold critical positions at pretty much all levels of LA society.

The item that sets the original criminal plot in motion's kind of neat, though the makeup of the criminal collective behind it stretches credibility a bit. All of that's really window-dressing for the main story, though, which is about Scully's relationship with his wife. This point is brought home when Tru--the person Scully risked everything to save--turns out to be unwilling to do anything to save himself.

Ultimately, things don't work out perfectly for the couple. Alexa's personality is still radically different from that of the woman Scully married--but it's as happy an ending as could reasonably be expected, certainly happier than the bleaker elements of the story preceding it led me to expect.

Overall, THREE SHIRT DEAL's an enjoyable if not spectacular cop story draped over a romance that may or may not end tragically--that aspect of the story seems likely to continue in the next volume. As a cop story, it's fine. As a romance it's the middle of a story rather than a story in itself. I'd happily read the next chapter, but don't feel driven to seek it out any more than I did this one (I picked it up more or less blind off the shelf at the library.)


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