Sunday, May 31, 2015


Vicki Dodds, a detective sergeant on the Dundee Metropolitan Police, has a hot-headed trainee to wrangle, a preschool daughter to raise, nagging parents to endure and a blind date with a friend of a friend.

And a kidnapping to solve, on top.

Ed James creates Dodds as the central character of an ensemble cast that's trying to figure out why someone kidnapped a brother and sister connected with a dog breeding business and left them in a cage. But before the investigators get very far into their inquiry, another incident occurs, and the probe itself suggests there have been similar cases before. The level of violence is increasing, meaning it may not be long before someone is seriously injured, unless Dodds and the department can track down the criminals.

James writes an excellent by-the-book procedural, revealing as all good procedurals do that detectives wield determination, persistent questioning and checking and re-checking information for clues far more often than they do service weapons or back-room suspect beatdowns. Dodds and company may be fairly standard characters -- Vicki herself is a Modern Career Woman Attempting to Juggle Her Profession and Family Obligations While Looking for Love, Law-Enforcement Model. But James paints them realistically enough to move beyond the stereotype level, recognizing that we have stereotypes because at their roots are actual people from which the types come. His series of crimes seems a little out of place, more suited to a grim-and-gritty psychological suspense thriller than the realism-influenced world he's created, but it sorts out well enough in the end.

Snared is James' first novel from a publishing company; he has six self-published mysteries featuring Detective Constable Scott Cullen also in the Scottish detective genre sometimes called "tartan noir." It's obviously intended as a series launch itself, but is well-done enough to make subsequent entries, if they come, worth a look.
Rick Murcer traces a similar arc, with several self-published books preceding Drop Dead Perfect, also a product of Amazon's Thomas and Mercer imprint.

Ellen Harper has a temper problem, which creates a number of other problems for her work as a forensics investigator for the Chicago Police Department. Complicating matters for her are a series of murders of young women, all found perfectly dressed and made up yet bearing the same written sign: "Not her." Harper will need to keep a rein on that temper to solve the crime and keep herself from getting fired -- or worse.

Like James, Murcer deals in well-traveled stereotypes. Aside from the twist of the Nearly Burned-Out, Walking-the-Tightrope-of-Barely-Repressed-Rage cop being a woman instead of a man, he offers very little that hasn't been done before. But unlike James, Murcer fails to put those pieces together in any kind of intriguing way or add any flavor to them. We have the requisite scenes in which the killer sadistically toys with and terrorizes his victim, or in which the higher-ups almost lose their patience with Harper but pull back because she's the only one who can get the job done. Weighing all of this down is the leaden style that Murcer uses, maybe a couple of steps above a Stratemeyer Syndicate entry but quickly tiresome.

Murcer's Amazon page shows a lot of approval for his self-published Manny Williams series, so Perfect might be a one-off clunker -- no single Amazon review tells you all that much about a book, but aggregated over several different volumes they can point one way or another. Murcer's own page says he is working on the second Ellen Harper book, and the relatively low price of a Kindle edition means that giving him a second chance is not a particularly big gamble. But that's because a smart gambler only bets what he or she is willing to lose, and a journey into any much higher prices will put Mr. Murcer on the outside of that particular set.

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