This is a fierce, feminist, and often funny entry into the realm of the police procedural. Nicely balanced between exploring the characters and advancing the plot, it hooks you early and keeps you coming back for more.
In many ways, the story follows the pattern set by ‘classic’ television cop dramas from the 80s and 90s:
1. You’ve got two seemingly mismatched partners: Alex is hot-tempered and quick to action, while Casey is more deliberate and determined to think things through
2. They're forced to tiptoe their way around the hard-assed boss: Kate is tough, but fair, and just as quick to back up her detectives as she is to bemoan their antics
3. Despite their caseload, they somehow find time to investigate just one more case for a friend: Meg is cute, crazy, great with animals, and delightfully lacking in both inhibitions and social etiquette
4. The case in question revolves around the proverbial ‘innocent’ man facing execution: the dead man, of course, has left his own investigative trail for Alex to follow in absolving his brother
5. Possibilities for career-suicide abound: they’re working it against their captain’s orders, who just happens to be the lead detective on the original case
6. Help comes from the most unlikeliest (and seediest) of places: Gia is the beautiful, imposing, cigar chomping mob boss who insists upon offering her unsolicited assistance (and who owns Credo, the racing horse of the title).
Al you need is a flashy sports car, some shoulder pads, and a little neon lighting, and you can almost hear the electronic keyboard soundtrack in the background. The story is a lot more polished, realistic, and professional than that, so don’t get the wrong idea . . . but I really do miss those keyboards.
The main characters are all well-developed and memorable, with a defined role to play in the story. Nobody is there to simply serve as a foil, or to provide comic relief. There are comic moments, some of them delightfully absurd, but they’re part of the story and part of the characters – they never feel tacked on. Even the secondary characters (and there are quite a few) are memorable, and that’s coming from someone who has trouble remembering the name of somebody she met this morning!
Two things really set the story apart from the current wave of crime dramas. The first is the level of detail involved in the police work itself. It just seems authentic and realistic, and never resorts to those conveniently lucky breaks that make you roll your eyes and wonder what the characters would do in real life. Alex and Casey work hard - their job is tough, but they make the case with nothing more than their brains and bravery.
The second is that the story excites you. It makes you want to cheer for the detectives, and makes you want to play along at solving the mystery. As interesting as they may be, relying on genius detective and new-fangled CSI techniques to break the case simply doesn’t allow for the same kind of visceral, emotional enjoyment you get here. There are some interesting twists, but the kind that make you feel you should have seen it coming, as opposed to making you scratch your head and ask WTF?
I don’t generally read a lot of detective stories (Preston & Child’s Pendergast novels are the obvious exception), but I would gladly sign up for another in this series.