I am such a fan of Josh Stallings. He’s a brilliant writer and TRICKY is something different in the crime genre. More heart with no loss of grit and tension. I love this book.
– Jamie Mason (There Graves Full, Monday’s Lie, The Hidden Things)
The latest from Josh Stallings features new character, homicide detective Niels Madsen. Madson is a pretty decent character and doesn’t fall into a lot of the cliches found in normal detective fiction i e he doesn’t have nagging ex-wives, a substance abuse problem or go on about a love for books or jazz music. Not that there is anything wrong with that, just nice to see a character without those traits. However this doesn’t mean he’s perfect, he has his fair share of problems in the department and keeping partners. He comes up on a murder scene and is soon involved in trying to get to the root of the problem. A good cast of supporting characters in this one including a firecracker who is an advocate for the intellectually disabled. great dialogue, some good history of the LA area and realistic discussions of some important issues without laying it on too thick. Rounded up to 5 stars and hopefully we won’t have to wait almost 6 years for the next new one from Josh.
This is a cracking good crime novel.
LAPD homicide detective Niels Madsen finds himself in the middle of a standoff between two uniformed officers and Cisco, an intellectually disabled man. Cisco is found armed and standing over the body of a man with Down syndrome. Cisco swears the dead man was his good friend, and he didn’t hurt him, but in his earlier life, Cisco had been a gang member, a brilliant and brutal killer. After he was badly beaten, brain injuries left him—if he is to be believed—with the intellectual intelligence of a child. Madsen must decide whether or not to believe the suspect who claims innocence, and determine who else can be trusted as he navigates a special needs community, East LA gang life and the political expediency of the LAPD.
From the first page, this novel gets going with its central plot, and this is the aspect of Josh Stallings’ writing that I appreciate the most: he doesn’t waste the reader’s time. His writing is laser-focused, economical and swiftly paced. At our first introduction to Niels, he’s established to be a knight errant, a maverick in the department with a relentless approach to solving cases. His partner, Darius Kazim is new to Homicide and partners with Niels with the additional brief of keeping an eye on him for the Chief. The partnership dynamic between these two characters reminds me of the duo from Department Q, the Jussi Adler-Olsen series, a quirky pairing with sharp, witty dialogue that ricochets through the action without ever intruding upon the action. There were many times where I had to chuckle; the one-liners are genuinely funny without seeming contrived.
The crime plot moves along at a compelling pace, and I ripped through this novel in a day. I enjoyed the freshness of the crime set up, which is the point the novel opens; an intellectually disabled man holds a gun over the dead body of his best friend, whilst two LAPD officers hold their guns on him. What has happened? The plot is compelling and never falls into implausibility or obviousness – I was along for the ride and unable to see the destination at the same rate as the central characters.
There is a love interest for Madsen in the form of Adair Hettrick, Cisco’s social worker and conservator. Again the dialogue between the two characters zings and hums nicely, without ever losing itself to melodrama or, typically with crime novels, sexual objectification and a woman who can’t help herself, which normally has me rolling my eyes.
Madsen is a tough guy, with a soft interior who needs to learn how to trust others. Trust is central to the story: working out who is to be trusted will be key to Madsen staying alive. “Everyone lies to the police,” Madsen tells another character. And then, even the police lie.
I loved this novel – it rollicks along, with punchy dialogue, endearing characters, relentless action and a strongly evocative LA landscape. Highly recommended.
The cop angle is familiar and needlessly cliched but I loved Stallings’ take on neurodiversity and the challenges of communicating with someone who is intellectually disabled. He makes it clear that the challenge is not with Cisco, who feels like a fully realized character, but with others. Pack that into an LA crime tale (with some historical notes on east LA) and it works very well.
I enjoyed this book much more than I expected to. I am a Southern California native living near Pasadena, just to the northeast of Los Angeles. There are plenty of detective novels set in LA, but most of them focus on conventionally attractive people who live in the center of the city, Hollywood or the Westside. And very few of them are filled with people who seem like they are real.
This book completely subverts that paradigm. The story is set in lesser known areas of the city (and is very accurate with its descriptions), and the characters are not the stereotypical LA folks. I really enjoyed both of these elements, and on top of that, I enjoyed the mystery as well. All together this one is win!