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Beneath a Weeping Sky
River City Crime novel, No 3
Frank Zafiro

Gray Dog Press
2009/ ISBN 9781936178124
Pol Procedural / Washington State / Contemporary

Reviewed by L J Roberts

First Sentence: Heather Torin never intended to be a victim.

The police officers of River City, WA have a problem on their hands in the form of a serial, stranger rapist. They have no description, no physical evidence and no real leads except that he is becoming more violent with each incident. Detective John Tower, Officers Giovanni, Sully, Chisholm and Officer Katie MacLeod are out to stop him while dealing with personal ghosts and life-threatening risk.

First, because I read absolutely everything in a book, let me say I liked the literary quotes at the beginning of each part of the story; the fist by Gauguin being a particularly favorite of mine.

Frank Zafiro’s years on the police force are evident in the realism on every page, from the quibbling between partners to the procedure of the investigation. While there are other writers with similar backgrounds, not everyone can translate the knowledge into characters and excellent dialogue as real and compelling as the experiences that formed them. Zafiro does.

I, and others, have compared Zafiro’s books to Ed McBain in that he uses an ensemble cast and does so very well. The characters are a cross-section of individuals with realistic personalities, idiosyncrasies and sometimes pettiness caused by ambition. However where he falls short of McBain is in character development. McBain never assumed readers had read previous books in the 87th Street series so he, very briefly yet effectively, reintroduced the characters in each story.

Zafiro chose not to do that so I found it a bit hard to remember who was whom and what was their past, although there is an effort to so inform us. There was one character I felt could have been left out without damaging the story at all, but that’s just me. We also knew much more about McBain’s characters personal lives. That is also missing here so it’s hard to see growth and transition. Because the characters are interesting, I hope they will develop more with the series.

The story, written on a 24-hour clock through the duration of the investigation, kept me reading late into the night. In spite of one large coincidence, there is excellent, gripping suspense that kept me turning the pages. I want to mention the dialogue again as that is something I feel is very important. The voice of each character was distinct and, in some cases, provided light moments against the darkness of the plot. However, a standout for me was a conversation which took place between Detectives Tower and Browning toward the end of the book where they are talking about how even the most villainous of villains can look like the most ordinary of people.

Had I been Mr. Zafiro’s editor, I’d have recommended omitting the back-flash section regarding the perpetrator, much of which I surmised through the story itself and, if necessary, summarized it as part of 1442 hours. I felt that section disrupted the pace, and the story would have been a bit tighter without it.

Even with the points I’ve made being a very picky reader, this is a very good police procedural. I highly recommend it and am personally delighted to know there are more books in the series just waiting for me to read them.

Reviewer's Note:
Reviewed 2011
© 2011