Geez, Louise, it’s been a while since I’ve read an Elizabeth Linington book (Dell Shannon being one of her pen names). I mean, I read a number of them in high school, either because the Community Library in High Ridge stocked them or because I borrowed some from my grandma (who owned some which I inherited in a roundabout fashion–and now that I think of it, my grandma died about the same time as “Elizabeth Linington”, and I never saw the two of them in the same place at the same time….) I know I have The First Linington Quartet around here somewhere, which I inherited from my grandma through my sainted mother. I must have read it right before I began blogging and doing book reports, because I kind of poop on her work in early book reports on this blog (The McBain Brief by Ed McBain, reviewed in August 2003; The Lost Coast by Roger Simon, reviewed in November 2004; Blood on the Arch by Robert J. Randisi, reviewed in December 2004). Clearly, it has taken me twenty years to remember how I didn’t like them (and note that in 2003, I was a little more than 20 years from my heavy reading in the…. well, a couple years earlier). But, oh, dear: Apparently when I bought this book in 2008, I bought several “Dell Shannon” books. Which might well remain in the Nogglestead stacks until 2044, or the sale of my estate.
I guess this book jumped out at me since I’ve already read two books for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge with Blood in the title (Blood Relatives by Ed McBain–a far superior police procedural–and Blood Debts by Shayne Silver).
This is one of the Luis Mendoza books (The First Linington Quintet being the Ivor Maddox series–Linington had numerous series from 1960 to this volume, one of the last before she passed). Luis Mendoza is part of Robbery and Investigation (Homicide) in the LA police department, and the book features Mendoza as a character amidst the detective squad, most of whom are but names–perhaps in the, what, 35 or so previous books they had personalities, but in this book, they’re a rotating series of names mostly, with no back story elaboration. Why does Mendoza, a cop, drive a Ferrari? Perhaps that was covered somewhere sixty or seventy years ago–the series began in 1960–, but it’s not in this book, and I don’t remember anything about it from whatever I might have read forty years ago from the series.
So, at any rate, the detective squad starts to look into a murder where a woman from out-of-town has extended her stay, but is murdered and someone has tried to cover it up as a car accident. Meanwhile, other cases are introduced: The rape of a young girl walking home from a friend’s house; a mugger who steals his victims’ shoes; an elderly man dies in his apartment amid an apparent struggle; and a couple of other smaller cases whose detecting progress, or not, is woven throughout the book.
So it’s a police procedural, but maybe too much. The cipher-like detectives of the squad–mostly just names, but some with a little mention of their families, and one is a woman–hang out, do puzzles, read books, and sometimes go out to investigate. Fortunately, their Los Angeles police district circa the mid 1980s doesn’t see a lot of crime. When they investigate, they interview some people but spend a lot of time theorizing in paragraphs- or page-long ruminations. But when it comes time for the cases to be cracked, it’s usually a random tip that provides the information that the detectives need–not their hard work. And some of the cases remain unresolved at the end of the book. Because it’s just another day’s–or week’s work–for the police.
Blech. Not only is the book particularly existential in its meaninglessness–the “heroes” of the book just kind of ride along with the story–but it goes out of its way to be existential as two separate sets of characters in different scenes go on to embrace and evangelize their atheism over the course of a dozen pages about two-thirds of the way through the book. Out of nowhere. Additionally, the book is crazy anachronistic. They mention a gang fight with stabbings like it was the Sharks and the Jets and not the gangs and violence we who came of age in the 1980s would recognize from the era.
But, as I mentioned, this book comes at the tail of Linington’s career, and this particular series began in 1960, almost a half century before. Ed McBain kept his 87th Precinct books pretty fresh from the 1950s through the early part of the 21st century, but this book reads like the author had frozen her understanding of police procedure in amber. I mean, I guess I cannot knock it–She banged out enough books to make a good midlist living at it. But they’re not that good, and they don’t have the staying power of the McBain work. Not that one can talk about the staying power of any 20th century books or maybe books in general in the 21st century.
And, apparently, I have two more “Dell Shannon” books in the to-read stacks, ready to strike at any time. Maybe if the Winter Reading Challenge next year has a category A Book That Probably Sucks. Well, it likely will, but with a mind-broadening woke title instead of the more direct Probably Sucks.
I am ready to read something else (and I already have!)