Former LAPD narcotics detective Will Magowan has pretty much hit rock bottom. Having been fired because of the heroin addiction he picked up while working undercover, he’s estranged from his wife and living in a beat up Airstream trailer at the opening of author Ken Mercer’s debut novel, Slow Fire.
Still unemployed and trying to get his life together two years after his firing, Magowan’s prospects for another job in law enforcement are looking rather grim. Until, that is, he gets an offer from the Mayor of Haydenville, California to become their Chief of Police.
Located far upstate and deep inland in National Forest territory, the once idyllic town is suffocating under a growing methamphetamine problem, one so bad that the Mayor is willing to overlook Magowan’s current baggage in favor of his past expertise.
Magowan accepts the position, and in relatively short order identifies the person he believes to be the source of the meth; Frank Carver, a man who served time in the 1970’s after being convicted of the voluntary manslaughter of his wife. Unfortunately, Carver also wrote a bestselling book shortly after his release from prison which, in conjunction with his generous patronage of the town’s library, makes him ‘hands off’ as far as the Mayor is concerned.
It’s not giving anything away to mention that Magowan identifies Carver as his main suspect (it happens early on), as Slow Fire is arguably more of a character study than it is a mystery in the strictest sense. It’s Magowan’s interactions with those around him – be it mentoring his earnest and painfully naïve young deputy, trying to reconnect with his estranged wife, playing politics with the Mayor, or butting heads with Carver – that truly fuel Slow Fire.
Carver, who presents an unnerving combination of brute force and intelligence for Magowan to square off against, is one of the more disturbing antagonists you’ll find in current crime fiction. Magowan is such a wonderfully well-developed character, however, that he’s more than up to the task. Mercer has, in fact, hit a stride with Magowan right out of the gate that many authors take two or three books into a series to find. Considering that Slow Fire is Mercer’s debut, I can only image the heights he will be able to hit with Magowan as this series unfolds… and I greatly look forward to it.
Slow Fire is available from Minotaur Books (ISBN: 978-0312558352).