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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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05/09/2005 Archived Entry: "Book review: Cold Case Squad"

Cold Case Squad
By Edna Buchanan
Publisher: Pocket Books

Review by Betsy Phillips

This review contains plot and character information that could be considered spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.

Edna Buchanan's Cold Case Squad is the first book in a new series about, appropriately enough, a cold case squad in Miami. Since it's an introduction of sorts, it has to accomplish two tasks: it's got to pull you into the specific stories it tells and present you with a rich enough universe that you feel compelled to read more books set in that world. Buchanan's world is a contemporary Miami populated by murderous criminals, exotic dancers, ethically-challenged reporters, and a police force still reeling from decades of corruption. Pretty predictable crime novel stuff.

In order to bring you quickly into the book, Buchanan's characters are, at first, a little too stock. Take the maid from the opening chapter: of course her name is Consuela and, when a garage explodes, of course she falls to her knees, says dios mio, crosses herself and looks to heaven. All of the characters are this predicable when they are introduced: there's the broken-hearted drunken Lieutenant who lost her lover, the young cop everyone thinks is having torrid affairs who is really taking care of his grandma, the sexist guy who really just wants his wife to take him back (one could write a whole lot about how interesting it is that it's his acquisition of a cat -- a pussy cat that seems wild, but has been neutered by the city -- that seems to spur him to reconnect with his wife and daughter, but that's a nerdy tangent, so I'll spare you). They all seem entirely obvious.

Even the crimes seem a little too contrived: a serial killer is captured because the young cop's grandma just happened to work for a Jewish family, and a chance meeting at the Mystic seaport helps solve the mystery of the exploding garage which so frightened poor Consuela.

But just when I got to the point where the book seemed too formulaic, something happened: the man the drunken Lieutenant was in love with turns out to really have been a philanderer who had women all over Miami. I was surprised to find out that the Lieutenant would love someone like that, but it fit. It's this little moment of unexpected complexity, the first sign of real dimension, when I thought I might really give a damn what happened to these characters.

After that the rest of the characters really come into focus as well. As I said, you have to suspend your disbelief a little to allow for the coincidences that allow the crimes to be solved, but I ended up being very emotionally invested in how these crimes would affect these characters. So, at the same time I was like, "Oh, come on, you expect me to believe that?!" I was also dying to know what would happen next.

So, I'd have to say that, as a stand-alone book, it doesn't quite work. It's just not quite good enough and doesn't have enough of a payoff. But as an introduction to potentially compelling and complicated characters, I think it's fine.

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