December 08, 2009

BOOKS: Locked In, Marcia Muller (2009)

27th (!) in the Sharon McCone mystery series.

Sharon survives being shot by an office intruder, but is left with locked-in syndrome -- she's alert and conscious, but unable to speak and almost completely paralyzed. All she can do to communicate is blink once for yes, twice for no.

Her friends, family, and colleagues -- not mutually exclusive groups -- begin digging even deeper into the cases they've been working on, hoping to find a connection to Sharon's shooting. Muller's narrative leaps back and forth among a half-dozen of the series' regular supporting characters, occasionally returning to Sharon's internal monologue as she lies in her hospital bed, frustrated at not being able to help with the investigation.

It's a nice way for Muller to put a new spin on the series, and it gives the minor characters their moment in the spotlight, which is entertaining. The many cases that everyone's been working on tie together into one giant case a bit neatly for my liking, but Muller juggles the puzzle pieces with enough dexterity that you aren't too distracted by the implausibility.

The last novel in the series, Burn Out, found Sharon wondering if she still had in her to be a private investigator, and at the close of this one, it seems unlikely that she'll be returning to full duty any time soon. Muller's been writing these novels for more than 30 years now, and surely retirement can't be too far away for McCone. Locked In suggests that Muller may be looking for a way to continue the McCone series with Sharon in a less central role, perhaps serving as an advisor to her younger colleagues who do most of the leg work themselves.

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