A review of Street Rules (Dectective L.A. Franco Mysteries #2) by Baxter Clare Trautman

READ JULY 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “For ‘Frank, ‘ L.A.P.D. Homicide Lieutenant L.A. Franco and her homicide squad, it’s business as usual — a multiple murder, ugly as it is, at least seems to have an easy explanation. Until it coincides with an untimely drive-by shooting.

The investigation ultimately pulls Frank and her squad in conflicting directions while drawing Frank closer to the county’s new Chief Coroner, Gail Lawless. Through a series of twists and turns, all Frank’s leads eventually bring her to the disquieting possibility that the killer she seeks might well be one of her own brothers in blue.”

MY REVIEW: Very mixed feelings about this one. First, to get prejudices out of the way: Kennedy, Franco’s lover at the end of the previous book, Bleeding Out, was by far my favorite character in that book, so I was disappointed in the direction the author took their relationship. In fact, Clare seems to go out of her way to make Kennedy less likeable than in the previous book. I completely understand it, I just don’t like it.

Okay, now to the more objective: Clearly, the writing isn’t as good technically as in the first book, largely an editing problem. There are a lot of sentences that are really awkward, and some that are just — well, wrong. This adversely affects the flow of the novel, because mechanical issues draw the reader out of the story and back to the surface, calling attention to the words themselves rather than to the story.

Then, there’s the dialog. The pervasive, almost overwhelming use of street slang and gangsta talk, and just basic crudeness, are so inconsistent with Bleeding Out that you wonder if this is even the same character. I understand the desire for verisimilitude, and, yes, there was some street language in the first novel, but in this one,  it’s simply overdone. And, I assure you, folks, I’m no prude. In many other places, the dialog feels unnatural, again more so than in the earlier volume in the series. These, of course, are largely editorial issues. I’ve always found Bella to be pretty inconsistent when it comes to both copy editing and story editing, which does a disservice not only to the reader, but also to a group of very talented writers.

Our protagonist, Lt. LA “Frank” Franco, is a complex character who, while she’s not always likable, is nonetheless admirable. There’s something of a Dirty Harry mentality about her, though, which, while it makes her less commendable than she could be, also lets you know that she’ll do whatever is necessary to get the job done. She seems to open up emotionally a bit more than in Bleeding Out, too, which is nice, and, despite the Dirty Harry aspect, is more personable, maybe “warmer” is the right word, than in Bleeding Out.

All that said, Street Rules is certainly worth reading. Saying the writing isn’t as proficient mechanically as Bleeding Out doesn’t mean it’s “bad” and the mystery itself is interesting, nicely paced, and consistently plotted, with plenty of curves thrown our way. The characters are  well developed. As I say, we get a better “feel” for Frank, a more complete sense of what makes her tick. We also get a pretty complete picture of Gail, the new love interest. The blossoming romance between Gail and Frank proceeds at a really nice, leisurely pace which I found quite refreshing. The rest of Frank’s squad are varied enough to add interest and depth. Only the “perp” seems ill-defined, which is a little disappointing.

So, though not exactly a rave review, still recommended.

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