Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mystery Book Review: The Commission by Michael Norman

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of The Commission by Michael Norman. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.The Commission by Michael Norman

The Commission by Michael Norman
A Sam Kincaid Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-358-2 (1590583582)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-358-6 (9781590583586)
Publication Date: February 2007
List Price: $24.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): Levi Vogue, Chairman of the powerful Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, is gunned down in the driveway of his home as he returns from a late evening tryst with Sue Ann Winkler, an exotic dancer employed in a Salt Lake City strip club.

Sam Kincaid, Chief of the Special Investigations Branch (SIB) of the Utah Department of Corrections, is assigned to help Salt Lake City Police Department homicide detective Lt. Kate McConnell solve Vogue's murder.

The investigation soon leads Kincaid and McConnell into the seedy world of prostitution and strip clubs. Ultimately, the investigation focuses on Charles (Slick) Watts, a violent ex-convict with a long criminal history and a score to settle with Levi Vogue. But before Watts can be apprehended, his body is discovered at an abandoned military base in Wendover, Nevada.

When the medical examiner concludes that Watt's death was a homicide elaborately staged to look like a suicide, Kincaid and McConnell are forced to turn their attention to a complex conspiracy behind the murders.

Ultimately, the investigation leads Kincaid and McConnell inside the Utah state prison to a small group of corrupt prison employees known as the Commission. As the police close in, Commission members turn, first on each other, and then on Kincaid.

Review: Michael Norman introduces a rather unique character in the annals of police procedurals, Sam Kincaid, Chief of the Special Investigations Branch of the Utah Department of Corrections, based in Salt Lake City, in The Commission. This is not a typical job description, and it makes for a unique and largely successful approach to this genre of mystery fiction.

Following the execution-style murder of Levi Vogue, the chairman of the Utah Pardons and Paroles board, Kincaid is asked to assist in the investigation. Despite the outward appearance of being an upstanding citizen of the community, Kincaid soon discovers that Vogue had a darker side. The convoluted trail ultimately leads to a rogue group of prison employees called The Commission who administer their own brand of justice to those whom they deem deserve it.

The primary appeal of The Commission is in the character of Sam Kincaid. Norman writes in a relaxed, almost folksy first person narrative that suits the principal character well. As a police procedural, the reader is taken step-by-step through the investigative process and participates with Kincaid in the unfolding investigation. The story is competently plotted, and serves well as an introduction to a new series.

However, there are a few stylistic flaws which mar this otherwise strong debut that could have, and should have, been corrected during another round of editing. Excepting the prologue that sets up the murder of Vogue, Norman uses first person narrative for the first third of the book. Then, suddenly, there's an italicized passage that presages danger for Kincaid. It's jarring and unnecessary. Following this, and with increasing frequency, Norman scatters third person narrative sections that seem to have been inserted after the completion of the book. It's as if he thought that additional explanation was needed and tossed in a paragraph or two to help fill in some blank spots. Without exception, each of these sections could have been rewritten from Kincaid's perspective, providing a smooth, cohesive narrative throughout.

Special thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of The Commission for this review.

Review Copyright © 2007 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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