November 24, 2010

BOOKS: Coming Back, Marcia Muller (2010)

28th in the Sharon McCone mystery series.

At the end of the previous volume, Sharon had recovered from locked-in syndrome after being shot, but faced a long, arduous recovery. Muller hits the fast-forward button at the beginning of the new installment, skipping over six months of physical therapy in five pages. Sharon's still not nearly at full strength (and not being allowed to drive is seriously cramping her style), but she's well enough to get involved in cases again.

So when Piper Quinn, a friend from her physical therapy center, goes missing, Sharon and her team go into action. We don't get to meet Piper -- the action begins when Sharon realizes she's missed therapy for a few days and starts investigating -- which makes it a bit hard at first to get too involved in the case, but we get the emotional involvement we need when one of Sharon's investigators also disappears while working on the case, which winds up involving not-so-dead soldiers, rogue government agents, and a missing microchip.

The format here is similar to the last book. Since Sharon's not yet up to handling the case entirely on her own, we bounce among the members of the McCone Investigations staff as each goes about his or her piece of the case. Chapters focusing on Ted, the office manager, are a bit out of place, since they mostly consist of Ted daydreaming about silk shirts and wishing he could be a real detective just like everyone else. That aside, though, I like the format, and wouldn't mind if this became the new default mode for Muller's series, shifting the focus from one investigator to the full team, or maybe allowing each member of the staff to take center stage, one book at a time. It's an effective way to extend the life of the series without it growing stale as so many have. (Poor Sue Grafton, for instance, hasn't even made it to the end of the alphabet yet, and she's barely readable anymore; one shudders to think what her 28th book will be like. BB Is for Gun...)

A side note: It was an odd juxtaposition to read this back-to-back with Armistead Maupin's latest -- both set in San Francisco, featuring large ensemble casts and storytelling from multiple characters' points of view. I kept expecting Sharon to run into Ben at the dog park, or Craig to pound on Anna Madrigal's door when canvassing the neighbors.

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