Stephen J. Cannell, with a mantle full of Emmy awards in his possession, seems to be concentrating these days on his relatively new career as a novelist. After a number of increasingly successful stand-alone works, Cannell has found his niche with Shane Scully, a maverick LAPD detective with a penchant for getting into trouble but nonetheless solving cases. COLD HIT, the fifth and latest of the Scully novels, is arguably Cannell's best.
COLD HIT preserves the elements that have made Cannell's past Scully novels so enjoyable and injects new ones to keep things interesting and fresh. At the start of the book, Scully is beset simultaneously with a number of professional problems. His partner, Zack Farrell, is going off the boards as the result of domestic problems and alcohol abuse. To compound matters, Scully and Farrell are in the middle of a high-profile murder investigation involving a serial killer who is preying on the homeless of Los Angeles. The murderer follows the bizarre pattern of beating his victims, shooting them in the back of the head, and cutting off their fingertips before dumping them in the river. Under pressure from the public to solve the murders, the LAPD reluctantly forms a task force headed by an acerbic FBI agent who immediately is at loggerheads with Scully.
Adding to the difficulty is Scully's belief that one of the killings doesn't appear to fit the pattern of the others, which is confirmed when a shadowy Homeland Security team removes that murder from Scully's investigation. To make things even more interesting, ballistic results from the murder produce a match linking that case to the unsolved murder of a Los Angeles policeman a decade before. That match --- called a cold hit --- causes Scully to dig deeper into both murders, even as federal agents take drastic measures to warn him off, and even as the investigation seems to inexorably lead Scully to one of the last people he ever would suspect of murder.
Cannell seems to be reveling in the freedom that is provided with operating within the framework of an episodic novel, as opposed to a weekly television program. He is not afraid to rearrange the placement of pieces on the chessboard --- or, as you'll see, rearrange a piece itself. At the same time, Scully's family life, and the familiar passages therein, provide a nice counterpoint to the violence that is an unwelcome but necessary part of Scully's profession. Cannell also provides a fairly even-handed treatment of contemporary issues with respect to Homeland Security. While it's fairly clear where he stands on the issue --- with local law enforcement, the Feds are almost always the bad guys, as a matter of course --- he does, through at least one recurring character, give time for an opposing viewpoint.
COLD HIT makes it clear that Cannell continues to create new and original characters and stories, regardless of the medium in which he is working.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 28, 2005