Evolution (Sandra Ruttan)
But be honest. As momentous as both are in the history of crime fiction, don't they feel a bit if not dated, then at least like products of times different from today? Don't the domestic vignettes, as memorable as they are (Steve Carella's tender relationship with his deaf wife, Teddy, in the books; Furillo and Davenport's pillow talk on the show) seem somewhat grafted onto rather than organically integrated into the stories?
The next stage in ensemble procedurals is here, and Sandra Ruttan is in its vanguard. What Burns Within offers three protagonists and a host of significant secondary characters. These characters' personal problems, while not extravagantly and theatrically complicated, are intense, and they are present at all times, whether the officers are investigating arsons, murders or a string of child abductions, or dealing with vicious office politics. Equally, the cases are on the characters' minds even in those moments that Bochco or McBain might have reserved for homely domestic vignettes.
The strands of investigation – into child abductions, rapes, arsons and murders – intersect and overlap while somehow managing to pick up speed toward a violent climax. The density and complexity build when one of the officers becomes a victim. And Ruttan manages to keep the suspense going even during the denouement, when things are supposed to be winding down.
There's a lot going on in this novel, and I may post more about it later. For now, I'll say that the book takes up at least two especially sensitive crimes, rape and child abduction, and deals with each in ways that are surprising and that subvert easy judgments. And I'll add that I can think of no other crime novel so dense with incident and yet so fast-moving. Highly recommended.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008