The Front by Patricia Cornwall

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The Front is the first Patricia Cornwall book I've ever read, and I can't say I'm anxious to read any more.

I have that what am I missing that everybody else seems to enjoy feeling? She's well-known, a New York Times bestselling author with a long list of credits. She has real expertise in forensics, and has won a highly impressive number of awards.

Maybe I'm dense. I was far into it before I figured out that the real story wasn't the murder of a blind woman by -- potentially -- the Boston Strangler, it was about Massachusetts politics, and a not so subtle comment on national politics.

It's told in a style that's fast-moving but mystifying -- at least to me. Perhaps part of the problem is that it's the second in a series, and I didn't read the first.

Win Garano is a state investigator and Monique Lamont is the District Attorney who owes her life to him, but is too proud to be grateful and too ashamed that he's seen her raped and violated.

Win is African-American with a grandmother he calls Nana. Shades of the Alex Cross books by James Patterson. Of course, there's room for more African-American detectives and they're allowed to be brought up by their grandmothers (something quite common). Myself, I would have named her something else, though. However, he doesn't have any children, and this Nana thinks she's a witch.

Lamont assigns Win to solve a 45 year old murder she claims to believe was the first victim of the Boston Strangler. He's to work with a woman with an artificial limb called Stump, but her nickname predates the motorcycle accident that took her leg. In fact, that accident was indirectly caused by Lamont's stupidity in choice of men, so Lamont hates Stump as well.

And this all revolves around other police departments in the state organizing "The Front" to help each other, which apparently Lamont takes as a personal insult.

Confused yet? But Win keeps running into a woman dressed as Raggedy Annie. And why is Scotland Yard involved? And why does Lamont so attached to a young reporter from the Harvard Crimson?

This is the sort of stuff you expect as the background to a huge crime. Yet it all comes out in quick, fast elliptical scenes of the characters talking tough to each other. Sort of like James Patterson again, only he would have killed half a dozen people in spectacularly dramatic fashion while revealing the political and personal infighting between these characters.

The big current crimes are some bank robberies and the looting of copper from abandoned buildings.

Win does solve the 45 year old murder, though it wasn't committed by the Boston Strangler, in just a few pages, in an almost offhanded way, even discovering that the victim wasn't really blind.

Of course, by that point nobody really cares. And nobody really did. The real story of the book is about the three main characters, and some obscure political point.

That police departments should or should not be structured this way? That we shouldn't vote for cold-hearted, manipulative ambitious District Attorneys who switch from the Democratic to Republican party? That we shouldn't support the Patriot Act?

On the plus side, the forensics seem quite credible, as they should, but they're not enough to carry the story.

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