Thursday, February 15, 2007

Probable Cause

Probable Cause is Theresa Schwegel's follow-up to her Edgar Award-winning novel, Officer Down. I was not much impressed by Officer Down but I did enjoy that one enough to give it a rating of 3.0 and the implied recommendation that fans of detective fiction give it a shot. I'm sorry to say that I can't do that with Schwegel's second novel.

Schwegel manages to tell a fairly interesting story about a group of Chicago cops who are just "bent" enough to force rookie policemen to commit burglaries on their behalf as part of the initiation into their police brotherhood. But in the process of telling that story she is unable to create even one character that is particularly likable or even wholly believable. Even the ultimate hero of the piece, Ray Weiss, remains pretty much a stereotypical womanizer of a young policeman despite Schwegel's attempts to make him sympathetic by having him carry the burden of parents who are disappointed in his life choices.

But the biggest failure of the book is that it never really developed enough suspense to make the reader feel that the hero's life is really in danger. The man behind the murder in which Weiss has been implicated never comes across as threatening to the point that he feels like a real danger to anyone. Without that kind of implied threat in the air, the plot falls flat and the book loses whatever punch it ever had.

I wish Theresa Schwegel well and I'm curious to see what she offers next. I hope that this effort was the result of her version of the "sophomore jinx" and that we haven't already seen her best work. I get the feeling that she hasn't quite hit her stride yet.

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