Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Dragon Precinct series has become one of my favorites. Set in the city of Cliff’s End in the land of Flingaria, the three novel...moreKeith R.A. DeCandido’s Dragon Precinct series has become one of my favorites. Set in the city of Cliff’s End in the land of Flingaria, the three novels to date, plus this short story collection, detail the cases of the Cliff’s End Castle Guard, particularly focusing on Lieutenants Torin ban Wyvald and Danthres Tresyllion. The Castle Guard police the city, and the lieutenants investigate the crimes perpetrated against its citizens. In short, these are police procedural mysteries, only set in a fantasy city populated by humans, dwarves, elves, and other creatures, and where a crime is just as likely to have been committed using a magic spell as with a gun or knife.
What makes this series special isn’t just the mash-up of genres--described by some as Dungeons and Dragnet--but the way DeCandido so thoroughly embraces the tropes of both genres. This isn’t just Homicide: Life on the Street or the 87th Precinct with the background scenery changed. Cliff’s End and Flingaria have a very real sense of geography and history, with great events of the past not only being referred to as background information, but also informing the stories set in the present day. When the crimes involve magic or fantastical elements--as they often do--they are written so that those fantastic elements are intrinsically woven into the core of the story. He doesn’t just substitute a mystic blast for a gun, but instead, magic goes to the very heart of the crime.
Having said that, while the setting is one of high fantasy, one of the things I love about the series is that the stories themselves are about the down-to-earth, petty concerns of day to day life, just like most crime. No matter how fantastic the trappings, almost everything boils down to relatable human emotions like greed or jealousy or passion. Where most fantasies might focus on a group of heroes involved in world-changing events, these stories show us what it’s like for the shopkeepers and innkeepers and other regular folk who stay behind to run things.
While the actual stories can get pretty dark, DeCandido’s writing is light and fast-paced, with a great deal of humor. He also does a great job of giving his characters distinct personalities through their dialogue and actions. These are characters who aren’t perfect, but who are compelling enough to want to keep revisiting again and again.
All things being equal, I think I prefer the novels to these short stories. All the character stuff I enjoy is here as well, but the novels allow for a longer, more involved investigation into the crime. However, these stories give the reader a real sense of the tone of the series. Some stories will benefit from having read the novels and understanding some of the events being referred to, but ultimately, they stand alone well enough here that this provides an effective introduction to the series. And it’s a series well worth introducing yourself to, because it’s a lot of fun.(less)
The Claw, a mysterious serial killer, is back on the streets of Super City. The superheroes who patrol and protect the city haven't been able to stop...moreThe Claw, a mysterious serial killer, is back on the streets of Super City. The superheroes who patrol and protect the city haven't been able to stop him. Neither have the officers and detectives of the S.C.P.D., who do their best to enforce the law and put criminals behind bars, despite the interference of superheroes who can't be bothered with due process or rules of evidence, or anything else that isn't expedient. Can the Claw be stopped, or will he disappear, only to kill again? And can a city truly be safe if it needs to be protected both from its criminals and its vigilante protectors?
Keith R.A. DeCandido, veteran writer of TV and movie tie-in fiction, gives readers an all-too-rare original novel with this, the first in his S.C.P.D. series. It's an effective fusion of superhero story and police procedural, with a central mystery that couldn't be told without the superheroic elements, yet is solved through good old fashioned police work. DeCandido creates a well-thought-out world, where the common tropes of superhero comics butt heads with the legal realities of the real world.
Stories featuring a real-world view of superheroes, particularly from the ground-level, non-powered residents of that world, are nothing new. DeCandido even mentions several as inspirations in his introduction. Superheroes in prose are also not particularly groundbreaking. What makes this novel work is the execution: DeCandido creates a thoroughly believable world and populates it with interesting characters and an intriguing story. He tells his story briskly and economically, giving us the information we need in order to flesh the characters and situations out, without overburdening us with exposition. He wisely keeps his focus on the normal cops. We learn the names and powers of some of the heroes, but he doesn't waste time filling us in on their origins or anything that doesn't concern the cases the police are investigating. And that's fine, because that's not the story he's telling.
In places, DeCandido's writing reminded me of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, which--to my mind--are the gold standard by which all other procedural fiction should be judged. I'm looking forward to future stories in this series, and learning more about the cops as we go.(less)
While Murder by High Tide is a gorgeous, well-plotted graphic novel, it isn't as strong in the characterization department. Because we never get to kn...moreWhile Murder by High Tide is a gorgeous, well-plotted graphic novel, it isn't as strong in the characterization department. Because we never get to know the characters particularly well, it's difficult to care about what happens to them, or who is responsible for the murders in the book. It's a fun diversion, and I'd certainly check out future installments in the series, but I won't be waiting with bated breath for them.(less)
Like the first one, this novel by "Richard Castle" reads just like a good episode of the TV series, Castle, which inspired it. Which is pretty much wh...moreLike the first one, this novel by "Richard Castle" reads just like a good episode of the TV series, Castle, which inspired it. Which is pretty much what I want from a TV tie-in.(less)
Sadly, Stephen J. Cannell passed away just a week or so before this book was published. If this is the last Shane Scully novel we're going to get, it'...moreSadly, Stephen J. Cannell passed away just a week or so before this book was published. If this is the last Shane Scully novel we're going to get, it's a great one. The plot is full of compelling complications, and the story isn't let down by putting the character into a life-or-death situation we know he's going to get out of. Instead, we get a renewed focus on character, with Scully finally getting a partner who looks to be around for a while. (Or would have been, if the series had continued.)
Stephen J. Cannell has been one of my favorite writers, both on television and on the page, since I was a kid. Learning of his passing was heartbreaking. At least he left behind a ton of fantastic stories to entertain us, and this is one of his best.(less)
As actor Peter Falk's health declines, it seems increasingly unlikely that we will ever see another television episode of the classic series, Columbo....moreAs actor Peter Falk's health declines, it seems increasingly unlikely that we will ever see another television episode of the classic series, Columbo. However, this collection, written by series co-creator William Link, helps ease that passage, just a little bit.
As one might imagine, Link captures the tone and voice of the series perfectly. (And why not; he's one of the major architects of that voice.) Each story reads like a treatment for a new episode of the show. And like the series, he even deviates from the formula on occasion. Like the show, most stories start with us witnessing the murder, then trying to see how Columbo unravels what should have been the perfect crime. But there's a whodunnit or two here as well, and stories where Columbo shows up before the murder takes place.
It's a fun book, both for fans of the show or for a new audience. Thank you, William Link, for revisiting an old favorite again, and giving us such a treat.(less)