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Great detective serials deepen as they go along, merging extended character development and sense of place with the infinite variety of human weirdness that only crime and the foiling of it can offer.
Take Cottekill resident Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight series. In each book, McKnight reveals himself a little more thoroughly and we get to explore the subcultural layers Hamilton plays with so well: Northern Michigan, hardscrabble backwoods America, law enforcement. McKnight is tough as nails and inordinately lovable, with an unerring, offbeat moral compass and a dark, ironic funnybone. He’s also a loyal friend, and this drives the plot of Die A Stranger
, in which his bud Vinnie goes missing.
Following the threads, McKnight finds himself eyebrow-deep in danger and violence surrounding an imploding pot-smuggling operation. As an ex-cop, he has a certain professional distance from the letter of the law, but never from the distinction between good and evil, and Hamilton rocks this interesting situation with enormous aplomb, reflecting on male friendship, drug policy, aloneness, and death. He’s a master at saying a lot with a few well-chosen details.
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C. E. Lawrence’s Silent series is another homegrown indulgence for thriller fans. Against the backdrop of a vividly drawn New York City, Lawrence pits her quirky, astute sleuths against yet another weird, believably evil serial killer in Silent Slaughter
It’s a delight to spend time with protagonist Lee Campbell, untangling a few more strands of the overarching mysteries that define his life. Campbell is a brilliant and haunted profiler for the NYPD, and his struggles are artfully interwoven with the chilling violence he and his colleagues attempt to contain.
Like Hamilton, Lawrence has created a character readers can grow to love: imperfect, honorable, and entertaining. Indeed, Campbell’s entire precinct is worth revisiting. They are not some alien species, these cops—they get slighted by office politics, get the hots for one another, and spill coffee on the ties they hate to wear. Yet their dedication is heroic, and in delineating their humanity, Lawrence brings us into closer communion with the heroism in our own mundane selves.
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It isn’t clear whether Woodstock’s Marshall Karp and Newburgh native James Patterson intend NYPD Red
to launch a new series, but one wouldn’t mind. The premise (a special squad of elite Manhattan detectives detailed to protect the rich and famous) invites a nearly endless cascade of wrenched-from-the-headlines plots. This is the pair’s second collaboration, and Karp’s humor and gift for character development are much better utilized this time out, blending nicely with Patterson’s penchant for nonstop breathtaking action and capital-D drama.
Detective Zach Jordan’s budding romance with a police psychologist, counterpointed by his partnership with an ex-squeeze, is exactly the sort of frame story that begs for another episode. As all police procedural readers know well, partnering is a love all its own, and therapy’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Hopefully, Karp and Patterson had too much fun to quit—which is exactly what a good series is all about.