October 3, 2009
TOO MANY DISTRACTIONS
See No Evil, the sixth novel in the Marti MacAlister series, explores the nature of evil in three plots, each of which can stand alone as fully developed stories. It is Halloween, and in her third year on the Lincoln Prairie police force, Marti finds, “‘There are just too many distractions.’” She and Vik deal with a murder, the disappearance of a street person, a flasher, and Marti and her family confront an intruder in the home she shares with her childhood friend Sharon.
The prologue introduces the first plot. An intruder, using a stolen key, enters the house while everyone is away. For nine days, he goes through the house, sometimes drinking a cup of coffee but mostly going through Joanna’s clothing, with whom he is obsessed. He plans to kill everybody in the house including the tough cop who lives there. The identity of the intruder is a surprise.
The second plot could be considered the main plot because it involves the detectives in a homicide case. Marti and Vik investigate the death of Ladiya Norris, a young woman whose body is found on the rocks on the shore of Lake Michigan. The investigation reveals the violent relationship she had with a brutal drug dealer named Knox. He, of course, becomes the prime suspect. Although they have an overwhelming amount of evidence, none of it would hold up in court against Knox. After they interview Knox’s wife Azalea, he beats her unmercifully for talking with the cops. Feeling that she has something more to tell them, Marti and Vik interview her again in the hospital. When Knox finds out, he pretends to be a cop and kidnaps her from the hospital. Knox is unaware that Azalea has died as a result of the second beating when Marti and Vik interview him again. The revelation at the end is expected but still surprising
Third plot involves Isaac, a homeless drunk, who feels he is in danger after his friend Dare disappears from the empty house into which he and Dare have recently moved. Marti likes Isaac who sometimes provides her with information. When Isaac asks detective “Mac” to help him find Dare, She convinces Vik to help look for him during their investigation of the Ladiya case. Based on clues picked up in the neighborhood where Isaac and Dare lived, they search for J. D., a 10 year-old, middle class black kid and wanna be gangster who may have knowledge about Dare’s disappearance.
The fourth plot is not about evil but functions to relieve the depressive feeling of the three other plots. Vice cops Cowboy and Slim are trying to catch a man who exposes himself to women. Upon the Captain’s order, Marti and Vik, though not pleased with having to do so, instruct them on investigative techniques, such as learning the Flasher’s moves and motives.
In each of the Marti MacAlister novels, Bland describes a little more of Marti’s domestic situation, which gives the novels a verisimilitude by showing the problems a single mother who is a police officer must face off the job. In See No Evil, Marti becomes engaged to Ben Walker, a fireman paramedic whose son, Mike, is the same age as and friends with Marti’s son Theo. A Confrontation with a school teacher about Mike illustrates how close the two parents have become. Using “we” Marti tells the teacher what she wants for her overachieving son Theo--recess and time to relax. Ben, also using “we” tells her to push his underachieving son Mike more. I believe we can look forward to the marriage of Marti and Ben.
The convention of homicide detectives handling several unrelated cases is expected in police procedural novels because that is the nature of police work. However, four separate plot situations do not constitute a fully formed story unless the plots are connected thematically or structurally. In See No Evil, the two plots involving police work are thematically connected. The third plot involving the flasher works because of the need for some comic relief.
The first plot strikes the discordant note. It fleshes out the personality of Marti’s childhood friend, Sharon, and the maturing of Marti’s daughter Joanna. Still, it seems too contrived and doesn’t flow as well into the overall story