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Posted January 20, 2012
The Claw, a mysterious serial killer, is back on the streets of Super City. The superheroes who patrol and protect the city haven't been able to stop him. Neither have the officers and detectives of the S.C.P.D., who do their best to enforce the law and put criminals behind bars, despite the interference of superheroes who can't be bothered with due process or rules of evidence, or anything else that isn't expedient. Can the Claw be stopped, or will he disappear, only to kill again? And can a city truly be safe if it needs to be protected both from its criminals and its vigilante protectors?
Keith R.A. DeCandido, veteran writer of TV and movie tie-in fiction, gives readers an all-too-rare original novel with this, the first in his S.C.P.D. series. It's an effective fusion of superhero story and police procedural, with a central mystery that couldn't be told without the superheroic elements, yet is solved through good old fashioned police work. DeCandido creates a well-thought-out world, where the common tropes of superhero comics butt heads with the legal realities of the real world.
Stories featuring a real-world view of superheroes, particularly from the ground-level, non-powered residents of that world, are nothing new. DeCandido even mentions several as inspirations in his introduction. Superheroes in prose are also not particularly groundbreaking. What makes this novel work is the execution: DeCandido creates a thoroughly believable world and populates it with interesting characters and an intriguing story. He tells his story briskly and economically, giving us the information we need in order to flesh the characters and situations out, without overburdening us with exposition. He wisely keeps his focus on the normal cops. We learn the names and powers of some of the heroes, but he doesn't waste time filling us in on their origins or anything that doesn't concern the cases the police are investigating. And that's fine, because that's not the story he's telling.
In places, DeCandido's writing reminded me of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, which--to my mind--are the gold standard by which all other procedural fiction should be judged. I'm looking forward to future stories in this series, and learning more about the cops as we go.
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