Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Storm Center: Review

Storm Center (1986) by Douglas Clark finds George Masters recovering from a gunshot wound. He's asked by the Assistant Commissioner of Crime, Edgar Anderson, if he would like to combine a "light duty" assignment as an instructor at the Police College, located in the countryside with a bit of a holiday for his family. Masters is perceptive enough to realize that there is a deeper motive behind the ACC's suggestion that the temporary assignment in the country might be a way to relieve his boredom and ease back into work. He's right, but it's not the ACC who has tried to pull the wool over his eyes, it's the ACC who has been manipulated into getting one of his top men down to the College.

For you see, the College has a bit of a problem. Five years ago, a young man who had a record of run-ins with the law (nothing too serious--breaking and entering, a bit of vandalism here and there) disappeared. The highly-recognizable car belonging to a ranking foreign policeman attending courses at the College was seen in the vicinity of the boy's last known whereabouts. But that information didn't even reach the local police until after the Dutchman had returned to his homeland. And no solid evidence pointing towards anyone was ever found...and neither was the boy, alive or dead. 

Now, five years later, another young tear-away has disappeared. That same Dutchman (with a different, equally recognizable car) is back for another round of courses and his car has again been seen where it ought not have been. The head of the College is quite certain that the local police force is building up to pulling the Dutch police officer in for questioning--which, even if the officer is innocent, could be damaging to both the officer's and the College's reputation. He asks Masters for advice on how to solve the problem--and to make any inquiries he wants (all on the QT, of course). Masters wangles "vacations" for his entire team and they launch a discreet and unofficial "investigation" that produces some very surprising and disturbing results.

A few thoughts:

It took forever to get to the place where the title was explained. Normally with Clark's books, it's pretty obvious what the title refers to. This time out, I spent 95% of the book wondering what the heck storms had to do with what was going on. Not a major point, just a bit of distraction.

Next, this is the first time that the suspect was so absolutely obvious to me in a Clark book. Flashing lights and alarms went off as soon as a certain incident happened. I immediately knew who, though not how. And, quite honestly, there's no way I would have figured out how without being led by the hand straight to the solution by George Masters. Which is okay--after all, these are police procedurals, so the object is to watch Masters and his team at work. But a little less blatancy on that certain incident and a few more hints in the direction of how would have balanced things out nicely.

Also, it's a bit odd to watch Masters and company pussy-footing around. They're there to solve a "problem" but they aren't really on the job. They haven't been called in officially by the locals, so they really shouldn't be investigating. But they are. And Masters manages to hand the locals the solution on a silver platter and somehow gets most of them to like it--when the locals ought to be pretty upset that the Yard men have been trotting around drumming up clues. This is the second novel of this sort that I've read--where Masters and his team wind up investigating a crime they haven't been officially called in on. I do think that Clark handled the diplomatic footwork (arranging for the men from the Yard to work on the case) much better in the earlier book (Poacher's Bag).

Nevertheless, Clark writes a fine police procedural and it was an added treat to watch George Masters lecture at the Police College. A very pretty piece of showmanship. As always the interactions of the team are enjoyable--especially the work between Masters and Green. Entertaining and I do recommend this series, though there are definitely stronger entries for those who like to be a bit more mystified about the solution for a longer period of time. ★★★ (though a bit weaker three than usual)

[Finished on 5/1/17]

This fulfills the "Furniture" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

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