I almost DNF'ed this one. I'll talk more about that in a little bit, but I want that stated upfront. I hope some readers will decide to give this a try, but I want to warn some (I'm thinking of fellow citizens of the U.S. here) that it might take a little work. I also want to stress that I do recommend this book, because I think it'd be easy to walk away from what I'm about to say with a different impression.
Detective Inspector Jack Austin is the kind of cop that can make Jake Peralta look like Joe Friday. He's undisciplined, offensive, easily distracted, far too concerned about coming on to women and joking around when he should be focusing on work. Yet, within the police, he's (almost) universally loved and deferred to. The citizens he polices may love him more. That "almost" will prove hazardous to his career, but he can't seem to be bothered by that.
The title (and marketing) would lead you to believe this is Crime Fiction—and it is, to a degree. But this tale about a multifaceted crime wave running through this city has several issues. My main problem with this storyline is how little police work we got to see. Jack would make some guesses, which would prove to be unerringly correct, but most of the actual work (including, testing those guesses) was done by his team off-screen. Sure, there's some intimidation of suspects and a lot of heroics by Jack. But, it rarely seemed that Adams was all that interested in the investigation—there were heinous crimes, some horrific human costs—but those frequently took second place to Jack goofing around. This is only something I've realized as I was writing this post, in the moment, you get caught up in the story and don't realize that this near-super cop doesn't actually do much. Suddenly, that joke I made about Jake Peralta doesn't seem as funny. Jack really has a lot in common with Jake, for both of them, despite their juvenile antics, they're beloved, and seem to solve a decent number of crimes.
I actually liked the story around the crimes and thought some of what was used there was pretty ingenious. But in retrospect, I realize that it's pretty meager as storytelling goes.
There were two other things the novel focused on more (and better) than the criminal investigation. The first is a romance for the out of shape (and not all that attractive) widower, Jack Austin. Things finally click for Jack and a woman he'd been interested in for years since his wife died. This is a sweet story, and I quickly became interested in it, and my interest only waned (and then only a bit) when I was starting to notice how much space the book was spending on it.
What Adams seems most interested in is talking about (or having his characters talk about) Jack Austin—what kind of man he is, what was his life (professionally and personally) before this book ended. The amount of space devoted to off-duty Jack Austin is a lot greater than you might expect going into this book, but it's the heart and soul of the book. The latter chapters of the book are very intent on teasing this out via challenges to his new romance and his career—but a lot of that doesn't seem like it should be present, I think it would've felt more natural in books 3 or 4. It's laudatory enough to make you wonder about the way the novel works, it doesn't feel earned (as it would coming up later in the series), so that rather than letting the reader discover what a swell guy/great cop he is over the course of a series, we're just told it. However, Austin's character and qualities are not only is this what Adams seems interested in talking about more than anything else, but it's also pretty compelling and interesting—moreso than anything else in the book. So take my hesitation about it with a large grain of salt.
The emotions are real, and will get you dragged in—there's a lot of pretty moving material here in a book that seems to think it's a comedy (it's light-hearted, but I don't think actually ever funny). I appreciated the heart and emotion in every scene and it's this kind of thing that won me over.
So what was my problem with the book? Jack's so intent on being eccentric that he intentionally misspeaks, uses nicknames for characters (so you have to learn the nickname as well as the actual name for a whole lot of characters from the starting gate). Throw in some nigh indecipherable Cockney rhyming slang (and a little bit that was more easily decipherable) and you've got a real challenge to read. But because I'd agreed to do this Book Tour (and ones for the next four books in the series), I had to press on when I really wanted to set (throw?) the book aside. Instead, I went with the immersion approach to learning a foreign language, trusting that eventually something would click for me with the phrasing and everything would make sense. By the 45% point, I'd grown accustomed to his Jack's idiosyncratic dialogue and thinking (probably sooner, but I didn't notice for a little bit.
I mention this only to be forthcoming for potential readers. This isn't a book to read casually but to plod through with all your critical faculties operating. So, yes, I had to work a lot harder to get through this book than I'm typically inclined to, but I'm glad I did. Not only was it worth the effort, I'm curious and invested enough to look forward to what happens next. Hopefully, you're smarter than I am and don't have any problems for the first half (or not that many), so you can enjoy the whimsical and amusing book at an earlier stage than I did. At the end of the day, however, it's a fun book and worth the effort.
My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.