This Crime Scene investigated by JIM NESBITT
In quick succession, two children are kidnapped from families that seem worlds apart. One is from a family of publicly pious, judgmental undertakers with a dark, nasty secret. The other is from a hip-hop mogul named Smack Daddy who is skating on the edge of financial ruin, desperate to maintain a façade of invulnerability for the brutal sharks who loaned him money and want to devour everything he owns and loves.
That’s the tangled puzzle facing two Los Angeles police detectives, Ray Pagan and “Calamity Jane” Randall, newly partnered and still trying to figure each other out with the clock ticking loudly.
Pagan is a star closer, an unconventional cop given to wearing black-on-black clothes and driving a black Escalade. He’s a tall, brooding type with Romani blood. He’s also a star with a huge screw-up on his record that shows the limits of his undeniable talent. Randall is a younger detective, recovering from a gunshot wound and dodging her own secret. She’s been given a no-choice assignment to be Pagan’s keeper – her stated task is to keep the star from going off the rails again.
But nothing is as it seems with these two. Both have special gifts that Randall, at least, sees as more of a curse than a blessing. She’s a synesthete, clinically defined as a person who, when one sensory or cognitive pathway is stimulated, experiences automatic stimulation in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. Simply put, Randall sees the truth or lies of what people say in colored streamers.
Pagan is an empath, someone who is affected by the energies and emotions of others, which gives him an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive people on a far deeper level. It also means he’s unconsciously influenced by the desires, thoughts and moods of other people – a constant bombardment that often leaves him drained.
Author Paul Bishop, a thirty-five year LAPD veteran, most of them spent wearing a detective’s shield, shows great restraint and doesn’t overplay the special powers of his two main characters. He doesn’t portray them as caped super cops and the gifts they have don’t dominate this fast-paced and taut who-dun-it.
Unraveling the case remains the center of Bishop’s book, with a strong, secondary theme of Randall trying to figure out Pagan. There’s very little gunplay in this story. And the action is as much internal, playing out in Randall’s thoughts and conversations with Pagan, as it is external. That makes this very much a psychological thriller that reminds me of John Le Carré’s classic Cold War spy novels featuring George Smiley – think TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY.
Bishop also pulls off another difficult trick – his novel is told from Randall’s point of view, dangerous territory for a male author. But he makes it work and draws two powerful portraits of Pagan and Randall hammering out the foundation of trust essential to any partnership. For Randall, it’s very much a story about finding a place where she belongs. For Pagan, it’s about finding a partner who can keep up with him and keep him out of the ditch.
You root for these two and find yourself waiting for Bishop’s next book about them and the cases they solve together.