Cannell delivers as expected in a mystery with a unique plot, a returning protagonist, Detective Shane Scully of LA’s Special Investigations Division of Robbery-Homicide, his suave and savvy partner, Sumner Hitchens, the perfect foil to veteran Scully as they discuss the merits of careers in the movie business versus the politically-charged atmosphere of modern-day police work under constant public scrutiny. In fact, it is the media spotlight of Vigilante-TV’s Nixon Nash that puts the two detectives in a suspicious frame of mind when they respond to a murder call in Boyle Heights. The victim is Lita Mendez, police critic and gang activist with a history of lawsuits against the LAPD, not to mention a very public ongoing feud with the head of Internal Affairs.
No sooner have the detectives begun to work the crime scene than Nash has set up his crew, conducting interviews and directing his spotlight on Scully and Hitchens as he begins the next series of V-TV in LA. The last location for Nash’s brand of character assassination was in Atlanta, where the reputations of two homicide detectives were trashed, the cops exposed as blundering fools while Nash stepped in to solve the murder—cameras rolling, of course. Shane recognizes the gleam in Nash’s eye, the zeal of a performer and the glib lies he spins to manipulate the press and fuel the anti-LAPD frenzy in the glare of the cameras.
The investigation starts off badly, Scully and Hitchens forced to follow a false lead that Nixon instigates to embarrass them. A former LA attorney, Nash knows people, always one step ahead in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game with Shane. Offering a lucrative position with V-TV in lieu of the humiliation ahead (Atlanta is an example of the consequences of antagonizing this self-aggrandizing vigilante who uses tabloid journalism to further his ambitions), Nix’s huge ego dwarfs a less-than-average stature. Scully doesn’t underestimate his adversary, all too aware of the danger ahead should the investigation get successfully hijacked by the strangely prescient TV huckster.
Cannell peppers his novel with the expected touches, famous LA landmarks, a society seething with social unrest and warring street gangs, the slick façade of a brightly-lit TV stage obscuring the ugly underbelly of a city where the disenfranchised look upon law enforcement with suspicion. Whatever real progress is made is shadowed by Nash’s threat. The murder opens deep cracks in the LAPD hierarchy: careers at risk, the volatility of competing gangs and the possible interference of a serial killer last seen in the Florida Everglades.
Perfectly orchestrated to the final, jarring conclusion, Cannell proves his chops at melding pop culture with the tensions of the city, the glamour and glitz of fame and the outrageous personalities who walk side by side with ordinary folk in a state where all is image, violence a heartbeat away and a TV vigilante there to record it all for a greedy public desperate for distraction.