VERTICAL COFFIN by Stephen J. Cannell
Kirkus Star


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Internecine warfare between feebies and sheriff’s guys with the LAPD as peacemakers—could you believe—in this rousing bang-banger.

Emo Rojas, sheriff’s deputy, is gunned down by a trigger-happy sociopath named Vincent Smiley, who is subsequently gunned down by the cops. There’s an aspect to this that enrages Rojas’s colleagues. Evidence suggests that an AFT team callously let the deputy stumble into a trap. Later, an AFT agent is murdered, and the feds are convinced they’re looking at payback. A powder-keg situation if ever there was one: law-enforcement folks drawing down on each other instead of the creeps, with the LA media having a field day. Powder-keg foretells a command performance by series hero Sergeant Shane Scully (Hollywood Tough, 2003, etc.). Charged by the mayor, the police chief, and by his lieutenant wife Alexa—acting head of the Detective Services Group—with peacekeeping through lickety-split case-cracking, Shane upsets one and all with a seemingly tangential approach. Sort out the feds and the deputies, never mind the sociopath, the brass insists. But Shane senses that short cuts are illusory here, that the only way to restore order to potential chaos is to cut to the why. Suicide-by-cop: a deliberate attempt to have the police do for him what he lacked the courage to do? That’s the way conventional wisdom sees Smiley’s demise. Too easy, thinks Shane. Sick, yes. Filled to the brim with self-loathing, that as well. But Vincent Smiley was much too bent on his own special brand of vengeance to be suicidal, Shane feels, and of course he’s right, though by the time the smoke clears—and the cost is counted—he wishes he hadn’t been.

Action’s been a reliable staple in the Scully series, but here Cannell gets the people right, too. A likable, believable cast makes this the best yet by the Rockford man.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-312-30425-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2003


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