W.E.B. Griffin has written about war, and in his 'Badge of Honor' series, of which Investigators is the seventh installment, he writes specifically about peace. Or, at least, the peace of the inner city and the cops who work and play within those cities. His prose is clean and direct. His story is a saga of various families and of Philadelphia.
This novel will take you by surprise. Investigators creeps up quietly, then grabs you by the throat when you're least expecting it. It is a slow build in the first quarter of the novel, as Griffin spends much time establishing his network of characters and their various actions and motivations. I spent the first 90 pages of "Investigators" wondering when the story would take off. Griffin shifts characters and points of view continuously. But his characters are compelling and real, and his Philadelphia seems solid and absolutely true to life.
Rest assured, however, that when this novel does take off, it soars like a rocket, illuminating all of its dark corners. Investigators opens with several seemingly unrelated events. A young woman, Susan Reynolds, schedules a trip to Philadelphia to see an old friend for a family party. While she's there, she plans on seeing another woman, Jennie, who, knowing that Susan is an Appeals Officer in Social Services, mysteriously begs her for help.
Meanwhile, in another section of Philadelphia, a cop on a narcotics bust shows his stripes. He accepts a bribe from one of the perpetrators and, as additional payment, rapes the perpetrator's girlfriend. Enter Matt Payne, a youngdetective still hot from his recent heroics. Payne also attends the party for which Susan Reynolds has come to Philadelphia. When they meet, the attraction seems mutual at first. But Susan is standoffish, and leaves the gathering alone. Later Matt discovers that there is some suspicion that Susan has been kidnapped.
He begins his own informal investigation of the alleged kidnapping, because he was believed to have left the party with her. But has Susan really been kidnapped? Even while Matt is questioned by the FBI regarding the missing woman, he is brought in to investigate the rumors of dirty cops in the Narcotics Division.
Suddenly, the story explodes across the page as an aging Mafia don goes to ask a favor of Matt Payne's father. The favor is a simple one: The mafioso wants Payne senior to convince his daughter, Amy, a doctor, to see the mafioso's granddaughter, Cynthia. As the favor is agreed to, and Matt Payne's father calls his daughter, setting up the medical consultation, we meet Cynthia Longwood. Not only is she the granddaughter of a well-known but unconvicted mobster, she is the young woman in that motel room who was raped by a dirty cop at the opening of the novel.
Confused yet? Thankfully, Griffin's novel takes off at an extraordinary pace at this point. The many threads of the story come together as Matt Payne is thrust into center stage by the interweaving circumstances of this complex but fascinating plot. Griffin is a master of the slow build, but always there's a terrific story turn that accompanies the pressure-cooker milieu of cops and their families, and the internal politics of the police force. For sheer twists, turns, and surprises, Investigators is a great cop novel.Douglas Clegg