Picture this. Instead of sprinkling sand in your eyes the Sandman gives you a shot of liquid fire in the ass. Da frick.
So opens Walla Walla Suite, second in the series featuring an ex-cop P.I. named Quinn. It's certainly an worthy opening line for a hardboiled crime story, and Quinn initially comes across as an exciting and earthy voice that you want to spend story time with.
Quinn works with Vincent Ainge, a mitigation investigator. A mitigation investigator is someone who investigates the past of an accused in a capital case in hopes of finding mitigating circumstances that might sway a jury and help the client avoid the death penalty.
One client, a repeat killer of children, presents a particularly tough case for Ainge as he attempts to find something
- anything - that might sway the jury and spare the killer's life. Understandably, Quinn has some systemic resistance (she's an ex-cop from Spokane) built in against the idea of helping Ainge's clients. Her job is Kafkaesque, to be sure: how do you work for the benefit of someone who has done an obvious wrong? The answer may seem easy, but what happens when the accused has himself been profoundly victimized? What should happen in such a situation?
Nothing here treats this moral and ethical dilemma in a serious way that the issues presented warrant.
Quinn is past fifty, menopausal, and out of a relationship. Not surprisingly, she has issues with men, but they don't stop her from working with Vincent in his mitigation practice. Despite her tough exterior, Quinn and Ainge seem to be able to reach a level
of closeness, at least as close as Quinn and a man can be.
One day her routine is disrupted when she notices a missing person's poster
and recognizes the young woman in it as one of the girls who work in the building for a man named Arnie Stimick. The sudden disappearance of attractive 18-year-old Eileen Jones piques Quinn's interest.
She soon visits the office where the missing woman worked, a place called Promotion in Motion, run by Arnie, and asks one of the girls in the office about Eileen. While at the office she runs into Stimick. Learning that she is a private investigator, Arnie hires Quinn to work the case, the police having failed to turn up leads.
Before Quinn can really dig into the case, the missing woman's body is discovered and the case becomes a murder investigation. Arnie, distraught over the death of Eileen, the missing young woman
who has now become a murder victim, starts a small-time campaign to get the creep who murdered her what he deserves.
Author Argula is being rather cynical with her portrayal of victim-rights groups, and she presents the system of criminal justice in a critical light, showing it to be a world in which those who are crazy enough and who have established rap sheets are the default suspects but those who are smart enough to hide their craziness can get away scot-free, especially if they come across as respectable.
Randy, Eileens's alleged killer, is not respectable. He looks guilty because he has a history, and he is therefore treated as guilty by the system
- and, sadly, by Quinn, who allows her prejudices to shutter her reason. Unlike the other case Ainge and Quinn are working on, this one has a personal history that's full of mitigating circumstances, starting with his bad-cop father who beat him and perpetrated other outrages on his person, the most heinous of which was the pimping of the child to pedophiles. Randy is profoundly messed up, so much so that you pity him. And you want Quinn to pity him, too. After all, the man had a really tough formative life in a way that is hard to imagine for the psychological damage that it caused. But Quinn's tough character seems to remain untouched by the sorry story and this lack of reaction on her part seems to downplay the reality of the trauma that child abuse causes.
Quinn resists any deeper exploration of the human condition and her attitude reduces the book's power; characters who refuse to see what's in front of them, to take on challenges to their flawed perceptions are simply not very compelling or interesting. Quinn is the very reason why the system is broken—no one cares. Everyone is nursing their jaded self. But when no one cares, when people just go through the motions of the process, we get exactly the kind of problems that a process without a purpose creates.