Review

Vertical Coffin: A Shane Scully Novel

by Stephen J. Cannell



Stephen J. Cannell recently celebrated his thirty-fifth year in
what is commonly referred to as "show business." He has racked up
some impressive statistics during that period. Cannell has been
directly responsible for the creation of forty --- forty ---
television series, many of which are still in syndication. He has
also been the guiding creative hand behind a number of major motion
pictures, and has recently become a spokesman for individuals
affected with dyslexia.

During the past several years Cannell has also been writing novels
that have achieved not only the commercial success one would expect
but also much-deserved critical acclaim. At this point Cannell
could probably phone in the plot and dialogue and still do well ---
the man seems to be incapable of writing badly --- but he instead
continues to demonstrate the craftsmanship and professionalism that
have caused his work to be held in good stead during the past four
decades.

VERTICAL COFFIN, Cannell's latest novel, is noteworthy on several
levels. He has found a winning character in Los Angeles Police
Officer Shane Scully, previously featured in the novels THE TIN
COLLECTORS, THE VIKING FUNERAL and HOLLYWOOD TOUGH. Cannell
continues to flesh out and develop Scully as he grows beyond the
dimensions of the literary media. VERTICAL COFFIN finds Scully
involved in a shootout, the result of a routine warrant service
that goes horribly wrong. The carnage leaves an L.A. Sheriff's
deputy --- Emo Rojas, a close friend of Scully's --- dead, a home
destroyed, and a number of people asking why.

It appears that things went terribly wrong due to the negligence of
the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which gave the
warrant to the Sheriff's Department but apparently neglected to
mention that the subject of the warrant was thought to possess an
arsenal of illegal weapons and explosives. This error results in
Rojas's death, and the Sheriff's Department blames ATF for his
death. The two agencies soon appear to be involved in a clandestine
war, with first an ATF member and then an L.A. Sheriff being
murdered in their homes. The mayor of Los Angeles, hoping to keep
the violence from escalating, directs the LAPD to investigate. The
investigation is handed to Scully, who in turn soon finds himself
isolated between the two agencies, and he and his family are at
risk.

Cannell's work throughout VERTICAL COFFIN, meanwhile, is absolutely
first rate. His research into the hows and wherefores of SWAT team
procedure and weaponry put the reader right in the strike vans; if
you don't feel like you're choking on the gun smoke you're not
reading closely enough. Cannell's plotting is meticulously
detailed, complex yet simply told, so that it is impossible to lose
the plot threads as they slowly but surely come together. He also
pulls off a major coup by introducing a fascinating and
unforgettable character within the last thirty-five pages of
VERTICAL COFFIN, smoothly and plausibly integrating him into the
storyline.

VERTICAL COFFIN is arguably Cannell's best novel to date. If you
are not familiar with his other work, particularly the Shane Scully
novels, this is the perfect place to begin what is sure to be a new
literary addiction. If he continues on his present trajectory,
Cannell may ultimately become better known for his novels than for
his film work.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

Vertical Coffin: A Shane Scully Novel
by Stephen J. Cannell

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0312934793
  • ISBN-13: 9780312934798