Bleeding Out, by Baxter Clare (Firebrand Books 2000)

Reviewed by Andy Smart

"Dirty Harry's personality stuffed into Martina Navratilova's body" is how one of her colleagues describes LAPD Lt L. A. Franco - now with a hook like that on the back cover your interest has to be piqued....

The action revolves around the search for a serial killer who sexually attacks and murders women and young girls in a small area of South Central Los Angeles. During the course of the book we are given flash-back insights into why the killer behaves as he does but Frank and her squad are left to work it all out for themselves. Actually the flashbacks aid the narrative pace and don't in any way detract from the plot of the book. This is not a case of being presented with a half-dozen suspects at the outset and then joining the detective in deciding which one of them is guilty; we just get to watch Frank and her comrades trying to dig up a suspect from the morass of the general public. There are the usual career oriented top brass and pushy journalists, but essentially this is good old-fashioned coppering.

There are token nods to offender profiling, but Frank has only the level of knowledge she picked up on a secondment and this serves to underline her decisions regarding the case rather than forming a major element. Where is does function is to counterpoint Frank's own personality problems, she 'self medicates' with music and alcohol to escape her past and current demons. I won't say any more about them because Clare does such a magnificent job of letting them unfold through the book that it would be a shame to spoil it. There is a romantic interest, you can see it coming from a mile away in fact but it is hard to see how this could be avoided - however it too takes time to unfold and the denouement of this sub plot never quite happens when you expect it too and in the manner you were anticipating.

I loved this book. Bleeding Out is a first rate "police procedural" crime novel, straight out of Ed McBain tradition; I'd recommend it for anybody who likes their cops hard-boiled and their streets mean. Essentially it's what NYPD blue would be if Kirkendall was a lesbian.

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