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Review: 'Slow Kill' falls short

Police procedural not challenging enough

By L.D. Meagher

'Slow Kill'
  • By Michael McGarrity
  • Dutton
  • Fiction
  • 278 pages
    Santa Fe (New Mexico)
    Michael McGarrity

    (CNN) -- Sometimes, it's nice to get away from it all. Even if "it all" is scenic Santa Fe, New Mexico.

    Police Chief Kevin Kerney is taking some much-needed time off at a southern California horse ranch. It's not entirely a pleasure trip. He's shopping for stock to begin his own breeding operation.

    Kerney barely has time to unpack when he discovers a dead body. It's nothing he hasn't seen before, but this time he isn't the cop investigating the case. He's the suspect.

    "Slow Kill," the ninth novel by former Santa Fe deputy sheriff Michael McGarrity, gets off to a very promising start. His series protagonist is not just a fish out of water -- far removed from his native New Mexico -- he is in a position no cop wants to be in. Kerney must profess his innocence, but he has no way to gather evidence in his own defense.

    McGarrity also introduces an interesting new character to the series. Sergeant Elena Lowery of the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Office is sharp, hardheaded and clear-eyed. She is the lead investigator in the case and more than holds her own with Kerney.

    In fact, the female characters are some of the strongest in the story -- Detective Sergeant Ramona Pino in Santa Fe, Kerney's career Army officer wife Sara and the newly-widowed Claudia Spalding.

    The author captures the landscapes of his story in vivid detail. "In Spanish," he writes, "Sangre de Cristo meant 'blood of Christ.' Tradition had it that the mountains were named by the Spanish settlers because of the deep red color that washed over the peaks at sunset. To the native people who had lived at the foot of the mountains for hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived, they were 'the place where the sun danced.' "

    The elements are all here for a crackling police procedural -- a suspicious death, hints of a hidden fortune and dark sexual overtones. Kerney is a lantern-jawed "just the facts, ma'am" kind of lawman. The supporting cast moves the narrative steadily forward. And the story sweeps, quite literally, from one coast to the other.

    Yet something is missing. The stakes are high, there is a disturbing undercurrent running beneath the entire proceedings and the characters are intriguing.

    Still, when the case is closed, the reader has the sense that the mystery did not truly test the mettle of the investigators. "Slow Kill" is a thoroughly professional police procedural, but it falls just short of being a thoroughly satisfying story.

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