Being a big fan of the CSI television series (only the Las Vegas one, of course), I wanted to give the tie-in novels a chance as well. My first effort, Ken Goddard's In Extremis, didn't turn out that well, but I wanted to give the novels a second chance. My eyes brightened when I saw the latest novel, Jeff Mariotte's Brass in Pocket. While I haven't been a big fan of Mariotte's (I didn't like the one Star Trek novel by him that I read), I didn't hold that against this book. Good thing, too, as this is a marvelous tie-in novel, doing everything it can to give the characters depth despite not being able to radically alter them. That's a mean feat, and something that Mariotte does very well.
It's a busy night in the crime lab. Gil Grissom is off in Washington at a conference and then a Congressional testimony, and the lab is shorthanded (this novel takes place during the 10 episodes before William Petersen left the show, so after Warrick Brown's death). But murder doesn't wait until it's convenient, and three crime scenes occupy their attention: a brutal shooting at a cheap motel that may involve police Captain Jim Brass, who's not answering Catherine Willows' phone calls; a "locked room" mystery where a pilot lands a plane at a small airport and is discovered dead in the pilot seat; and a gruesome find of some animal bones as well as a recently slain sheep that may be the lead up to a serial killer. And then Catherine's daughter calls with her problems!
In Brass in Pocket, Mariotte uses the CSI characters we all know and love and does something different with them. He gives us some insight into how they think without treading on the toes of the TV show. He brings out a part of Brass's past (can't say what, as it's a spoiler) that adds to his character, though it's not a major enough addition that it transforms how we feel about the character played by Paul Guilfoyle. Since Riley is off the show now, Mariotte has a bit more freedom with her, and he gives her more depth than last season's episodes ever did. I love her sense of humor and how she needles Greg, but she's got a darkness to her as well.
Mariotte ties at least two of the stories together thematically. The last thing Catherine needs during this busy time, when she's temporarily in charge while Grissom is away, is to have to deal with Lindsey's problems. But she feels guilty because her job keeps her away so often that she's conversely happy that Lindsey is bringing the problem to her. Her statements to her daughter about friendship and how we can only see the side of people they want us to see, even if they are our best friends, really ties into the Brass storyline. The other two storylines, while not necessarily tied together at all, are also well-written and imaginative.
Mariotte does a good job with the "CSI-speak" - all the technical terminology that we don't have to wade through on the TV show because we just see it in montage form. Goddard had a hard time making that interesting and his novel therefore often dragged, but Mariotte doesn't have that problem. It does seem a little awkward when he first introduces things like Luminol (for finding blood), but that's just a minor niggle. While the prose isn't stellar, it's serviceable and interesting for a television tie-in. He kept me interested, which is the point of the whole process. His prose is also efficient, as he manages to fit a lot into a limited number of pages, yet none of the plotlines feel rushed.
Dragging Brass in Pocket down considerably, however, is just how tightly packed it is, throwing the timeline completely out of whack. There is just no way that everything that happens in this book takes place in one night, yet Mariotte insists that it did. Characters criss-cross Vegas, go back to the lab and out again to interrogate suspects, including an area of Vegas that used to be desert but is slowly being taken over by housing complexes. To name one example, take the opening scene at the seedy hotel. We all know our CSI heroes are thorough. They're experienced, so they can be quicker than somebody who isn't, but they are thorough. For the events in the rest of the novel to have taken place in one night, Nick and Catherine would have had to process that entire scene in 10, 15 minutes tops. Riley and Greg have to go out to the small airport (I assume it's kind of on the outskirts of the city), process the scene, figure out how the guy was murdered, drive to the second crime scene with the animals (a casino that's being built kind of on the outskirts of the city as well), process that crime scene, back to the lab, back to the airport to process the plane for evidence (where Greg gets interrupted by various airport personnel, who are also suspects, five times)… You get the picture. It's all impossible.
All of that threw me out of the book, which is a shame because the rest of the novel is so good. I read Brass in Pocket faster than I've read a book in quite a while, mainly because I couldn't put it down. I loved what Mariotte does with the characters, even those that he creates. There isn't a false note in the bunch. If you're a CSI fan and you want to see your heroes in action, you should definitely pick up this book.
(Note: The book also contains an excerpt from Tokyopop's new CSI manga comic. This is completely useless because we don't see our heroes, and it doesn't even set up what happens in the comic. Couldn't they have excerpted something from later in the comic that's actually interesting? I thought that was the purpose of excerpts like this.)