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In Extremis by Ken Goddard

For the last four years or so, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has been one of my favorite television shows. Many of my friends watch and enjoy the series, and several have recommended the program-based-novels to me. I am always wary of novelizations of television shows both as a writer and a reader, because the characters' on-screen personas sometimes struggle on paper. I have had several of the novels recommended to me, however, so I decided I would pick up the newest, In Extremis by Ken Goddard.

The premise is fairly simple: an undercover drug bust goes horribly awry and injures several DEA agents as well as disfiguring and killing a man in a pickup truck. Gil Grissom's crack team of LVPD criminologists are asked to come out and reconstruct the shooting to figure out a.) who shot one of their officers and b.) if the man in the pickup truck is their suspect. The investigation leads to a dead mobster in another part of the wildlife refuge, difficult puzzles, and a large amount of rain.

There were amusing parts, to be sure, but overall, the book suffered horribly for one reason:

It was not visual media.

Goddard's plot resembles, in some small way, the CSI episode "A Bullet Runs Through It", which involves a massive police-versus-criminals shootout and requires the reconstruction of a shooting scene. On the screen, it's easy to see how the shootout took place, with dowels and lasers in place. On paper, it's almost impossible to visualize the crime scene. There are 3D reconstructions and talks of tubes and dowels and bullet sizes that, on the show, would fly by but on paper feel as though they drag on. It's impossible to keep track of the different bullet sizes, shapes, and trajectories in page-long paragraphs of scientific explanations.

That's almost forgivable, however, in the last seventy-five pages, which abandons the technical jargon for some really tight storytelling. What cannot be forgiven is the point-of-view jumping. Every third chapter, the story moves from the CSIs and their work to the murderer, and it's very frustrating to follow. Classic CSI storytelling leaves the killer - cold and unsympathetic - out of the storyline. The book would have done well to do the same, because I ended up just wanting to move past those five pages and back to the story proper. Is the murderer interesting as a character? Yes. Is he sympathetic? No. The narrative is not served well by dwelling on him.

Characterization was decent, especially with the lab technicians. Frankly, the best moments involved the lab techs, who were well-written, witty, and served some much-needed comic relief. In a book that took itself entirely too seriously and went out of its way to name-drop (three or four times), little shining moments with Archie and Bobby Dawson were desperately needed.

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buecherwald
the forest-dweller

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