The title THE CORPSE HAD A FAMILIAR FACE is interchangeable with
its author, Edna Buchanan. Buchanan became a household name as a
result of that work, and despite subsequently publishing a
succession of well-written and imaginative crime novels, CORPSE
remains her best-known work. That may change with the publication
of COLD CASE SQUAD.
COLD CASE SQUAD begins with two prologues, both of them chronicling
apparently unrelated incidents taking place in Miami within 24
hours of each other in June 1992. One is a double murder that takes
place in a striptease establishment; the other is an explosion and
fire that takes the life of a father of three. One act is
deliberate, the other an apparent accident. The murders go
unsolved; for the survivors of the explosion, life goes on.
The meat of the book begins with Sergeant Craig Burch of the Miami
Police Department's Cold Case Squad taking a complaint from a woman
who believes that she has been seeing her ex-husband in several
places. The problem is that her ex-husband died twelve years
previously in an explosion. It does not seem like a matter that the
Cold Case Squad should be dealing with --- their mission concerns
old murder cases that have not been solved --- and, indeed, Burch
is about to send the woman on her way when his boss, Lieutenant
K.C. Riley, inexplicably orders the squad to investigate the
matter. The team slowly but methodically begins to detect a link
between the apparently unrelated murders and explosion that took
place in June 1992, and the woman's complaint.
Buchanan does a masterful job here, painstakingly establishing the
connection point by point while making the reader care about the
detectives involved. Burch, in particular, is dealing with his
estranged wife, who is harassing him at the station, and elsewhere.
Buchanan somehow manages to elicit some sympathy for the wife, even
while painting her as a world-class pain. At the same time,
Detective Sam Stone of the Squad has discovered an apparent link
between a series of murders spanning decades and occurring
throughout the country, including Miami, little suspecting that his
investigation will put a loved one directly into the target of the
killer. Buchanan ratchets up the suspense throughout the story,
switching points of view among several individuals and cases,
maintaining momentum without confusing the reader, while heading
toward a cataclysmic ending.
COLD CASE SQUAD may well be Buchanan's best work to date. This is
the first title in a new series. Given that advances in forensic
science are enabling police departments to reopen investigations
into previously unsolvable murders, there should be interest in
this series, as well as renewed, and well-deserved, attention to
Buchanan. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 27, 2010