Feds working the murder of an IRS agent in California find ties to a much-feared local gang and a Mexican drug cartel in Rupp’s debut thriller.
The latest case for FBI Agent Dick Hartmann and San Francisco’s Violent Crime Squad (aka the Animals) is a killing at the IRS Service Center in Fresno. Edison Shaw’s death looks like a suicide, but a lack of gunshot residue has cops ruling it a murder. Dick’s team, including newest member and recent Quantico grad Coleen Ann Ryan, quickly finds a connection between the IRS Service Center and Fresno hoodlums known as the Bulldog Gang. It seems the gang used the center’s Spanish Language Unit to operate an identity theft scheme. Things only get more complicated—and dangerous—when two high-ranking Bulldog members flee to Mexico, where drug cartels have been expanding their empire with white-collar crime in the U.S. The book takes a Sherlock-ian angle: Dick, a fan of Holmes, jokingly calls Coleen Doctor Watson and belongs to a social group called the Mischievous Irregulars. But Rupp’s story is unmistakably a procedural: the Animals and other FBI agents make headway with grunt work like questioning people and handling surveillance. There’s even some action, especially when the Bulldog Gang targets the Feds, leading to an explosive gunfight. The thriller provides airtime for some of the villains, too, most notably Chris Martinez and Jimmy Sanchez, frivolously spending money they didn’t earn. Rupp devotes too many pages to the Animals’ downtime: they frequent bars, go shopping to spend Coleen’s travel allowance, and enjoy a barbecue in Dick’s parents’ backyard. Though these scenes dampen suspense, they do give time for Dick and Coleen’s mutual physical attraction to build. The Animals nearly bow out for the final act since they need permission to pursue suspects in Mexico, but the novel speeds through another action sequence and a twist before reaching a gratifying conclusion.
Don’t be fooled by the white-collar title; there’s plenty of bullets, tension, and old-fashioned police work.