Slow Fire
Ken Mercer
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Slow Fire
Ken Mercer
352 pages
February 2010
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Mercerís thriller is a stew of many ingredients starring an ex-junkie narcotics detective hired as a police chief in Haydenville. The northern California town is facing a growing threat, a methamphetamine lab hidden in the forest that is producing high-grade drugs and a growing clientele. The production of this illegal, highly lucrative drug also creates an increase in violent crime in the area.

Hired to stem the tide of drug trafficking by the mayor of Haydenville, William Magowan is unprepared for the disinterest of the locals. When he investigates the questionable death of a female kayaker - his first official case - Will is instructed by the mayor to back off. In fact, when Magowanís chief suspect for the meth lab is a famous local writer, the message is the same: back off. That is essentially the problem with this novel. Magowan is brought on site to do a specific job but rebuffed at every turn, either by the mayor or the district attorney, not to mention his acerbic contact with the DEA.

It seems that Will has poisoned his own well, his reputation in law enforcement in tatters, his recovery questionable as well. Heroin addiction aside, Will chips away at his sobriety, drinking long necks, conning a prescription from a local doctor for a nonexistent ailment. His bursts of anger donít inspire confidence either. So here we have a very flawed but noblecharacter, doing his job without any support save a very green, very impressionable deputy.

Will blunders his way through the story, face to face with a bully who is the townís treasured celebrity, his twin teenaged sons who create havoc and indulge in random brutality, and the occasional drug-running hard guy more at home in the forest than in plain sight. Dulling his confusion with pills, Magowan is more victim than leader.

The lawmanís painful family history remains a reminder that Willís life is way off track. Surveying his options, Magowan wades in, undaunted: a dead kayaker, a man chopped up in a pizza oven, missing family dogs, an amphetamine epidemic and a broken marriage. His material out of control, Mercer soldiers on, his work more than occasionally well done but for the many intractable elements that muddy this stew and render it inedible.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2010

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