‘Door to a Dark Room,’ by Danny R. Smith

Book two in the “Dickie Floyd” police procedural series (make sure to read them in order; author Danny R. Smith routinely spoils the previous book each time out), set in Los Angeles, finds Detective Richard “Dickie” Jones returning to the job after six months. He got shot in the last book, and has been recovering both physically and psychologically. When Door to a Dark Room begins, his wife has left him, and his partner, Martin “Pretty Boy Floyd” Tyler, has been teamed with someone else. As Dickie eases back into the schedule, he’s assigned to the Cold Case Unit. Until something more compelling comes up.

In the wealthy, secure city of Santa Clarita, a woman realtor disappears. When her car is found, there’s a body in it – but they’re not sure it’s hers, as the head and hands have been removed. And her husband seems strangely impassive about the whole business.

Meanwhile, Dickie’s cop instinct is telling him he’s being watched. Soon he becomes convinced a man in a car is staking out his apartment. He keeps quiet about it at first, not sure whether his PTSD has made him paranoid.

In the end, the various investigations converge (I wonder how often that happens in real life – probably not as much as in fiction), and the cops begin moving in on a depraved killer who is not all that smart, but has remarkable animal cunning.

I’m growing fonder of the Dickie Floyd novels. They’re not as accomplished as other series I could name, but they have much to teach us. Author Smith is a former detective, and the real heart of these books is a sort of apologia for good cops – that they shouldn’t be judged by their crude jokes, but by the things they do. And that they’re under considerable psychological pressures, pressures that would destroy most people, and which often destroy them. A little like Joseph Wambaugh, without the despair.

Cautions for lots of profanity, and deeply disturbing crime situations. Recommended, if you can handle it.

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