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Vertical Coffin: A Shane Scully Novel    by Stephen Cannell order for
Vertical Coffin
by Stephen Cannell
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Stephen J. Cannell, winner of The Edgar and Emmy Awards, is well-known as a writer/producer of over forty TV series including Spencer For Hire; The Rockford Files; The A-Team, and The Commish. Cannell has joined the book circuit with a series of successful novels.

The pleasure of Cannell's work lies not only in the writing, but also in his interesting procedural elements and solutions. Cannell's savvy of law enforcement techniques, both verbal and technical, shines through in this new episode in the LAPD Sgt. Shane Scully crime series. We are introduced to agency acronyms - CSI, BATF, SWAT, AFT, SRT - and terminology like porous fingerprints and 'flash-bang grenades'. 'Vertical Coffin' is itself a 'term used by SWAT teams to describe any threshold. When clearing a house, police are most vulnerable to gunfire while passing through doorways.' The Prologue is a joy to read, with thirteen bikers ('Iron Pigs'), including Shane, out on the highway (on Harleys, of course). Their 'biker handles' grab the reader's attention - Maniac,(Ms.) Jabba the Slut, Wart, Drill-Bit, Blam-Blam - and the language is lyrical: 'the rush of all that energy and power ... too-tight leathers with vibrating love handles'; 'the throaty animal rumble of all that (Harley) horsepower redefining them, the exhaust; a self-induced steroid.'

The story takes in Sgt. Scully's personal life, his spouse and son Chooch. His wife Alexa is acting head of the LAPD Detective Services Group, a.k.a. Scully's ultimate boss. News reporter Nancy Chambers claiming to do a series on urban violence, adds interest (and a twist to the tale) through investigations of her own. A drama of inter-bureau conspiracy and betrayal unfolds in a melée involving both local and federal law enforcers. The action revolves around a situation at Hidden Ranch. With an armory in his house and garage containing illegal firearms, grenade launchers, ammo and plastic explosives, Vincent Smiley deals with his neighbors' suspicions by claiming that he works for an anti-terrorist division. In the first logged incident, Scully's friend Deputy Sheriff Emos Rojas is shot during a routine warrant service at Smiley's house. Things heat up further after a member of the ATF Situation Response Team is killed and then a sniper takes down an operative from the Sheriff's Special Enforcement Bureau. After an intense meeting of varied agencies, 'Everybody's nerves were frayed and sparking. Dangerous energy was arcing around like loose bolts of electricity.'

In offering support to Officer Beverly King, who is consistently admonished by her superior, Sgt. Scully offers as advice 'some things we can change, some things we can't. The secret is knowing the difference ... you let him get into your head, you're finished ... ignore his flack and stay focussed.' To which, Officer King offers cheerfully, 'Who are you supposed to be, Deepak Chopra?' I recommend Vertical Coffin as an enjoyable, witty read with colorful language and characters, descriptive dialogue and brisk-paced scenes.

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