When a car plunges from the twisting coastal road just south of San Francisco onto the rocky cliffs below, homicide inspector Marko Bell is ready to chalk it up to a tragic accident. But when he finds out the deceased driver was the personal chauffeur for the mayor of San Francisco — and that he may have been forced off the road — Bell begins a dogged pursuit of the truth. Bell's investigation takes him into the mansions of the city's powerful ruling families, the penthouse offices of an up-and-coming political consultant, and the streets of his adopted city. And it brings him into contact with two other cops, Karen Yancey and Shake Wingfield, who are investigating a decades-old series of unsolved murders. Together they uncover a massive conspiracy that powerful figures would kill to conceal. As Bell's pursuit brings him face to face with the haunting memories of his own personal tragedy, he is brought to the brink of obsession. All that's left is to identify the next kill signal — and to pray he's not too late to stop it.
Numerous dark plotlines twist through the novel, and although not all of them get cleanly resolved, the haunting, nihilistic air gets under the skin. Basich’s characters find themselves always fighting against their fates, usually without success: A selfish politician thwarts the attempt of an employee to obtain a taxi medallion from a friend with terminal cancer. Another character is stuck with memories of his parents murdered during the Balkan conflicts. One scene featuring the abuse of a sex worker reveals a character's moral rot, but is not for the squeamish. Basich also at times applies a lighter touch, as when he describes a detective's sweetly tentative romance with a medical examiner.
Vivid characterizations are the novel’s greatest strength, as these detectives leap off the page. As one makes awkward, heartfelt attempt to repair his marriage, Basich describes him as "terrified that he would run headlong into the reality that he was the only one who thought it could still be repaired." Bell's troubled relationship with his partner comes across in aching detail, as the two men's wounded psyches bring them close to destroying each other. Intricately intertwined subplots populated with all-too-human lawmen as troubled as the criminals they are chasing will ensure readers will keep turning the pages until the surprising end.
Takeaway: Hauntingly memorable detectives navigating through a linked series of crimes make this a must-read for fans of noir-flavored procedurals.
Great for fans of: Ed McBain, Joseph Wambaugh.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: B+