Felony File by "Dell Shannon" (Elizabeth Linington) (1980)
Under the name "Dell Shannon," Elizabeth Linington (1921-1988) published 38 novels about Los Angeles Detective Luis Mendoza -- her most popular character -- beginning with the Edgar-nominated Case Pending in 1960. This one was number 31 in the series.
The prolific author also wrote 13 novels under her own name about Hollywood police sergeant Ivor Maddox, 13 novels about lawyer Jesse Falkenstein as by "Leslie Egan," and 13 novels about cop Vic Vallero (also as by "Leslie Egan"). She also wrote seven novels and one collection under her own name and as "Dell Shannon," "Lesley Egan," "Egan O'Neill," and "Anne Blaisdell." Linington was one of the first women to write police procedurals and was known as "The Queen of the Procedural."
She was also a conservative activist and a member of the John Birch Society. I can't really say how much that influenced her work since Felony File was the first book of hers I read, although I have several others lurking about.
For someone raised on the police procedurals of Ed McBain, and later, Dorothy Uhnak, Linington's take is a bit jarring, albeit perhaps a tad more realistic. The cases for Mendoza's Robbery-Homicide Squad come fast and furious, some being solved quickly, others less so, many are resolved through happenstance, others through deductive skills. As the novel starts, a previous case is about to go to trial. By the story's end the hunt is still on for one killer, no decision has been whether to charge his accomplice, and there are more robberies to solve. Crime and violence never stop.
A gang has been using a very sophisticated plan to rob department stores, following several similar robberies in other states. A blowsy blonde has been robbing smaller stores, managing to outwit the police. A nine-year-old girl is brutally raped and murdered while her mother's boyfriend is passed out drunk in the next room. An "Avon lady" shoots a woman who answered her knock. A man caring for his paraplegic brother is brutally murdered during a home invasion. An unidentified woman's body is found in a park. A kidnapped victim of a sadistic rapist and murderer managers to escape from her captor but cannot say where or by whom she was held. A teacher is stabbed. A twelve-year-old boy mugs an woman in her eighties. A businessman is murdered and found near the dead body of a cleaning lady who had been posed as if she had been sexually assaulted.
Through all this we are treated with glimpses into the lives of Mendoza and the members of his squad. The problem, for me, was that I kept confusing all the different policemen -- they shoot in and out of the book so quickly that -- probably because I was not familiar with the series -- despite their individual home lives, they appear interchangeable. Even Mendoza is not well-defined. He's a dedicated professional who deprecates sloppy police work. He wears expensive tailored suits (which tend to get destroyed while he's on the job), drives a Ferrari, and is devoted to his wife and children. His family, along with various retainers who have been absorbed by the household and three cats and an old English sheepdog, is about to move into a large estate in Burbank -- evidently inherited by Mendoza's wife, Alison. To please their five-year-old twins, Mendoza has decided to add some horses to the family menagerie, and somehow managed to also get five sheep -- with hints from the author that the sheep will be giving Mendoza trouble in an upcoming book. Beyond these trappings, the reader does not get to know Mendoza at all.
A running thread throughout Felony File involves Mendoza's rescue of a cat in a burning building. To Mendoza's chagrin, a photo taken of the rescue has gone viral and he is besieged by well-meaning cat fanciers and animal rights activists. This amusing thread provides a final coup de grace to the book.
About that title. It's about as generic as you can get and does little to enhance the plot. Not much effort appeared to used in the title.
Despite my misgivings, this is a very good book. An entertaining book. At times, a ruthlessly realistic book. I believe he more books in the series that you read, to be more understandable and readable Lieutenant Luis Medoza and the Robbery-Murder Squad would be.
So that's what I hope to do. Soon.
I've been aware of "Shannon" for decades but have read perhaps two short stories, non of her novels...it might be interesting, given the Bircher-in-Chief we have in place, to see how that expresses itself in the fiction (beyond the prototype you establish here of steadfast men in the face of a viciously chaotic world (any notable women characters beyond plot devices?)ReplyDelete
Dead women, murderous women, felonious women, helpmates...all notable, perhaps, Todd, but not in the sense you mean.Delete
Dell Shannon books were everywhere 20 years ago. Now, not so much. After reading your review, I'm tempted to dig one out and read it!ReplyDelete
Can't help it--every time I see this author's pseudonym I hear Runaway--have to struggle to keep from humming it.ReplyDelete
Hum all you want, Matt -- it's a great song.Delete
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