Sharon McCone’s adventure after recovery from a gunshot wound in the head that leaves her victim of “locked-in syndrome” is disappointing. The details of that horrendous experience (near-total paralysis with an alert mind) are hardly addressed after the first few chapters, fading to irrelevancy as the story progresses. With McCone’s friendship with another patient as a bridge from hospital room to plot, the disappearance of fellow patient Piper Quinn draws McCone back into the action as head of McCone Investigations, even as coworkers and her husband doubt her ability to handle the pressure: “It was as if the accident had severed her time line, leaving Before on one side and After on the other.”
Like the opportunity to fully develop her characters, the meat of McCone’s ordeal flies out the window as the author undercuts her own story with short, choppy chapters - what I call the “James Patterson Syndrome,” propelling a story forward with staccato chapters. Muller ups the ante on Patterson, with at least six characters carrying the narrative. Unfortunately, they are never developed beyond the surface issues each faces, or the facile relationships they have with each other.
Everybody is busy in this tale: the kidnappers, a professional clean-up crew, McCone Investigations and the added resources of Sharon’s husband’s private security company. All and sundry express much concern about McCone’s readiness to return to the field except Sharon herself, who goes after the culprits with a vengeance, even though there are relatively few, and those easily overcome.
The plot is a bit sketchy - a clean-up crew, the motives for murder, secret ops and a rabid ex-husband last seen in an explosion in Iraq. The brief chapters do little to illuminate a group of investigators and their significant others who might be more compelling if fully-fleshed, rather than painted with the predictability of a bickering husband and wife, a black/white relationship hidden from relatives and an investigator whose technical skill interferes with his search for a mate.
This was my first encounter with Marcia Muller, although this is the twenty-eighth mystery novel she has written. Perhaps more familiarity with prior novels might have helped in Coming Back, but that begs the question of a novel standing on its own merits. This patchwork of people and threat fails to really engage, Muller relying more on formula than her own instincts. The bones are there - there just isn’t any meat on them.