Crais, Robert. Demolition Angel.

NY: Doubleday, 2000.

Crais is best known for his “Elvis Cole” private eye series, so this is a departure for him — and a good one. It’s an unusual police procedural thriller, in that half of it is an exciting, well-plotted, and very suspenseful story about a sociopathic serial killer, while the other half is an equally well-developed character study of a cop suffering from PTSD. There’s even a hesitant love story in there.

Three years ago, LAPD bomb technician Carol Starkey and her partner (and lover) were checking out an improvised explosive in a trailer park when one of L.A.’s frequent minor earthquakes rumbled through and set the thing off. Both techs were killed by the blast, but the EMTs brought Starkey back to life five minutes later. But not her partner. After months of hospitalization and therapy and reconstructive surgery, Starkey is back on the job, though not as a bomb tech. And she’s not at all the person she once was. She drinks and smokes constantly, she hardly sleeps at all, and she drives her lieutenant and most of her coworkers crazy. She lives in constant fear of being ordered to go to the LAPD shrink, which would mean the end of her career — and all she wants is to continue being a detective.

Then another bomb explodes in a parking lot — this time by remote control, which means the bomber was watching — and another tech is killed. And Starkey gets the case. Almost immediately, an ATF agent named Pell shows up and attaches himself to her — and now she has to worry about the feds grabbing her case, too. And then she has reason to believe this latest bomb is the work of “Mr. Red,” who has been making a name for himself with carefully constructed explosives all around the country. Starkey has her hands full. Can she figure out who the Bad Guy is? Can she keep Pell at arm’s length, even as she begins to develop feelings for him? Can she manage the two other detectives on her investigative team, one of whom is ratting her out for the drinking? Will she ever get a full night’s sleep again?

Crais does an excellent job of delineating Starkey’s internal struggle in balance with the exterior facts and questions of the investigation she’s trying to run. And Pell has his own legitimately earned demons. And then there’s the skewed character of “Mr. Red” and the other warped personalities of the world he inhabits. And hanging over everything is the harrowing day-to-day life of the Bomb Squad. A gripping, first-rate novel of the white-knuckle variety that will really hold your attention.

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Published in: on 20 February 2014 at 11:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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