Deadly Stillwater is the story of Detective Mac McRyan and the rest of the St. Paul Police Chief’s ‘boys’ and their efforts to solve a double kidnapping. Unfortunately, my review will be all over the map, as there are parts of this book that are extremely well done, parts that are mediocre, and parts that I simply did not care for.
The good news first. I found the suspense in this story to be outstanding. In part, this is due to the heinous nature of the crime. But even so, the author did an admirable job of keeping my stomach in a knot, as the finale approached relentlessly. The pacing was excellent. There are really no downtimes, although there is some seemingly unnecessary repetition of ideas.
In the so-so bucket, I would put character development. Many of the characters were largely stereotypes, making them and some of the dialog feel stale in places. But, the players were generally likable, if not all that real. Parts of the plot were also a bit high on the unbelievability scale, such as a programmer hacking multiple secure databases and creating complex data correlations on the fly. Consequently, I found myself thinking ‘yeah, right’ from time to time. But overall, the level of exaggeration was acceptable as a spice that complements the stew, rather than overpowering it.
The bad news, in my mind, was the concept of a hand-picked set of detectives, “the chief’s boys” as they were known, who worked outside the law. I’d like to say that this team of detectives was presented as antiheros, but the feel of the book was more in the vein of ‘the ends justify the means.’ While I have enjoyed some novels where the protagonist dispensed justice when he/she had no faith in the judicial system, the boys found the law too cumbersome during their investigations, i.e., do whatever’s necessary to find the bad guys. I have a hard time seeing this idea as heroic and this distaste tended to taint the story for me.