Russell, Alan. Burning Man.

Las Vegas: Thomas & Mercer, 2012.0

Russell is the author of a large number of thrillers of one sort or another but I confess he’s new to me. Michael Gideon is a Los Angeles K9 cop who, with his German shepherd partner, Sirius, tracks a serial killer through a canyon firestorm and captures him, but is badly burned in the process. And that’s just the prologue.

After many months of surgery and skin grafts and therapy, and both of them having received their medals for heroism, Gideon is given his choice of new assignments. Of course, he wants Homicide Special, the brass ring for cops, but the Chief talks him into becoming a more specialized detective working directly under him.

A year later (and apparently without any special training to be a detective), Gideon has apparently taken well to his new job and he draws two cases at once that make up the rest of the book. First, a dead newborn (whom he names “Rose”) has been found abandoned at the Angel Flight cog railway. Gideon takes this one personally because he was abandoned as an infant himself and only survived because he was discovered in time by a young priest. He has vengeful opinions about women who discard their babies.

Second, the body of Paul Klein, a student at Beverley Hills High School, has been found crucified to a tree in one of the city’s parks. Gideon has to share this one with Robbery Homicide, and it’s a straightforward police procedural as they uncover the boy’s background and interview the other students he and his buddies bullied.

In the background is Gideon’s personal life: The wife who died unexpectedly of ordinary-type flu four years before, the supportive neighbor who is a working shaman, and especially Lisbet, the young woman whose calling in life is to arrange the burials of all those abandoned babies. It’s in this latter relationship that Russell tends to go somewhat overboard. The saccharin level of the young couple’s flirting repartee is a bit wince-producing at times. So are the soliloquies with which Gideon barrages his dog. Overshadowing it all, of course, is the fire that Gideon went through physically at the beginning and metaphorically through the rest of the book. And probably the rest of his life. It’s not a bad effort, if the author would only tone down the goody-goody-ness.


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