Thu
Sep 7 2017 11:00am

Review: Close to Home by Robert Dugoni

Close to Home by Robert Dugoni is the fifth book in the Tracy Crosswhite series, where the Seattle homicide detective is thrown headlong into the path of a killer conspiracy.

Robert Dugoni revisits Seattle Homicide Detective Tracy Crosswhite in Close to Home, the fifth book in his critically acclaimed #1 Kindle and Wall Street Journal bestselling series. Also the New York Times bestselling author of the David Sloane novels and the non-fiction title The Cyanide Canary, Dugoni has been the recipient of the Nancy Pearl Award for fiction and a two-time nominee for the Harper Lee Award for Legal Fiction; further, his books have been nominated for the Edgar Award and twice the International Thriller Award.

In the opening pages of Close to Home, readers meet spirited 12-year-old D’Andre Miller, hustling home from the rec center to beat his 9 o’clock curfew, the treasure that is his leather basketball tucked protectively in the crook of his arm. Still flying high from the three-pointer he sunk to win his team the game and the Lil Wayne track flowing through his earbuds, he is impervious to the March night’s frigid temperature—but not the vehicle that runs him down and sends his prized ball into a gutter. It’s over in an instant, the promise of a young life snuffed out before realization can even dawn, and yet D’Andre’s tragic death will have far-reaching consequences.

Given the fact that this appears to be a hit-and-run—and that relations have been strained between authorities and the African American community—Violent Crimes Detective Tracy Crosswhite and her partner, Kinsington (“Kins”) Rowe, are called to the scene. Once there, Tracy—a 40-something whose sister was abducted as a child, thereby crippling her family and hastening her career in law enforcement—must comfort D’Andre’s bereaved mother, who collapses onto the pavement upon confirmation of her son’s death. It’s a heart-rending moment, and one that remains with Tracy as she faces serious fertility challenges while attempting to start her own family as a newlywed:

She thought again of Shaniqua Miller, about the way she had crumbled in the street, her son’s death consuming her. She thought too of Del’s sister, Maggie, and how she must have felt when she’d walked into her daughter’s bedroom and found her child dead. She thought of her own mother’s complete and inconsolable agony, like a deep cut that would never heal.

It made her think again of her desire to have a child, and she wondered if, maybe, not getting pregnant was a blessing, instead of a curse.

Meanwhile, Tracy and Kins’s colleagues Del and Faz are working the case of Del’s 17-year-old niece, Allie, who recently died of a heroin overdose following a progressive addiction to pot and prescription drugs. Despite attending a detox center and professing a will to live, she relapsed—and Del, struggling to balance work while caretaking for his sister and young nephews, is hell-bent on finding her supplier and seeing him punished. But, as he soon learns (by virtue of the subtly scene-stealing attorney Celia McDaniel, who is on her own personal crusade), simple answers aren’t sufficient to resolve more complex realities; rather, the proliferation of heroin is an international epidemic that has largely, and unwittingly, resulted from the legalization of marijuana.

“So we put the dealers in jail and give them significant sentences like ten years,” Del said, thinking of the new law.

“You put one in jail and you open a slot ten others will be waiting to fill.”

“Not if we ramp up the punishment. Not if we start ensuring they get the full ten years. A lot of dealers would think twice.”

She shook her head. “Dealers, maybe, but we can’t legislate habits that have formed over the last decade. If there are users, there will be suppliers, Del. An addict is an addict. Your niece was an addict. Criminalization only drives the addicts farther away from the people who love them and can help them, to the people who will abuse them.”

As this case inevitably intersects with Tracy’s, she gets her first glimpse into the workings of the Navy's criminal justice system, which has asserted jurisdiction over the D’Andre Miller matter following the arrest of an active-duty serviceman living on a local naval base. Laszlo Trejo has been linked to the victim’s death through the discovery of his abandoned car—reputedly stolen prior to the crime and bearing proof of its commission—and other incriminating evidence. Trejo, remarkably nonplussed by the proceedings, is assured a zealous defense by Leah Battles (another outstanding addition to the character arsenal). But when a critical piece of evidence goes missing and the integrity of Trejo’s council is impugned, the likelihood of a conviction appears to be slipping away.

While Tracy is very much a focal point of the narrative, Dugoni judiciously alternates perspectives, allowing his secondary characters to step forward; consequently, they are richly nuanced and entirely compelling in their own right—including those who are unique to this particular story arc. This balancing act is pulled off with aplomb and allows the reader a greater understanding of the case’s ramifications in their totality as opposed to in isolation. This also affords an opportunity for the author to explore both procedural aspects of the case as well as myriad personal conflicts, though there is much carryover between the two. Such overlapping ensures that the plot’s suspense never overrides its underlying emotional depth.

Despite being the fifth entry in a continuing saga, this offering stands alone solidly, with its backstory being just that (though new readers will be tempted to revisit Tracy and Co. from the beginning). At its core, Dugoni’s twisted tale is one of conspiracy and culpability that is rooted firmly in fact rather than fallacy. Further amplifying such gravitas is the richly atmospheric sense of place, with Seattle’s bitter chill serving as a suitable backdrop to the all-too-real pandemic of heroin addiction and its accompanying devastation. Indeed, these are issues that hit all too Close to Home. Fortunately, topical fiction such as this helps to shed light on the darkness.

 

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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.

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