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Slow Fire    by Ken Mercer order for
Slow Fire
by Ken Mercer
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2010 (2010)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Will Magowan used to be an LAPD Narcotics detective. He took risks working undercover, balancing the need to take drugs to be convincing against the danger of addiction. That balance failed after his small son Sean died. He lost his job, his wife Laurie, and his self respect.

As Ken Mercer's Slow Fire opens, Will (clean for over two years) has received a job offer, out of the blue, to take up the position of police chief in Haydenville, a very small town surrounded by forest in Northern California. Though Will suspects a hoax, it's the real deal, so of course he accepts and heads north with his dog Buddy.

It turns out that the once idyllic Haydenville has a big problem - crystal meth. But that's not Will's initial case. The first day on the job, he's faced with the body of a young woman found dead in her kayak. Though the coroner rules it accidental, Will suspects foul play - and obsesses over the case. He also wonders why the town has so many signs (dozens of them) for lost dogs.

Will's suspicions regarding the meth clan lab operation soon zero in on celebrity novelist Frank Carver and his twin sons. Carver is notorious for having served time for his wife's murder, and for his membership in the Hell's Angels. Will investigates with the help of inexperienced subordinate Thomas Costello. But, though mayor Bonnie Newman hired Will, she doesn't have his back and is soon on the verge of firing him.

As the plot simmers, potential informants die, and Will's job balances on a knife edge, Laurie comes for a visit - is a reconciliation possible? Helped by a forest ranger who's concerned about missing hikers, Will and Thomas locate a small bungalow in the forest and call in the DEA. But though the meth lab is soon shut down, it seems that Carver is untouchable. Why was he awarded a government service medal and who is protecting him?

Will refuses to let it go and soon it's very personal indeed. Though he solves all his cases - missing dogs, dead kayaker, and meth operation - he descends into darkness and out again before it ends. Slow Fire is a raw and gripping debut to a new series that I plan to follow.

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