Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Capitol Offense, by Mike Doogan ($7.99)

Carolyn picked Skeleton Lake by Mike Doogan as one of her best of the year picks. She was adamant that his Nik Kane books, of which Skeleton Lake is the third, needed to be read in order. Unfortunately, Lost Angel, the first in the series, is out of print -- what was his publisher thinking? After having read Capitol Offense, second in the series, I understand Carolyn's caveat. Doogan builds so much on what happened before that it would be nice to be able to read the series in sequence. I have to say, though, that it appears that Doogan does an admirable job bringing the reader up to date, so no serious plot elements are lost. But also, Doogan, if this book is any indication, likes cliff-hangers. Woe betide the reader if the answer appears before the question! (Author Don Winslow was very good at the cliff-hanger ending in his Neal Carey series, a series I miss very much because it, too, is out of print!)

Nik Kane is an ex-cop, ex-con (exonerated, of course) and tough guy P.I. in Alaska. Because of character defects (wonderfully delineated by Doogan towards the end of Capitol Offense) and absence on the homefront when he was in prison, Kane's personal life has fallen apart. When Kane is hired to investigate the arrest of a state senator for murdering a legislative aide, he takes the opportunity of being sent to Juneau from his home in Anchorage to tentatively re-establish his relationship with his near-adult son, who has been working in Juneau.

There are all sorts of hot political issues brought to the fore, including oil taxes and official imprimatur of gay unions, and they are presented with authority. That is not surprising, since author Doogan is also a state representative in Alaska. His fictional analysis of Alaskan politics is fascinating.

There are all sorts of characters involved in helping to solve the murder. We meet a mysterious young widow of an influential old guy, her massive Inupiat assistant/bodyguard, a power-behind-the-scenes Anchorage police chief, a weaselly governor, an ex-wife, an alienated son, a Native cab driver who is Kane's all-P.I.-mysteries-have-to-have-one sidekick, some bad guys, some "badder" guys, a caricature of a defense lawyer, a silent client, a talkative and attractive young legislative aide, and millions of other characters I've left out. Everyone Kane meets has a story, and we hear at least a soup├žon of it, or she has a tic, which we get to see. Sometimes it seems overwhelming to keep the players straight, but it's all good in the end.

At the end, Doogan waxes his most philosophical and lyrical. That's where he shows his readers the money. There are times at the beginning when his writing seems trite, incorporating wisecracks or P.I. quirks already worked by other authors. But the action and writing ratchet up as the book goes along, and in the end I loved it. Including the cliff-hanger.

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