11 November 2007

CSI: Tacoma

I finished THE KING OF METHLEHEM yesterday on the subway, and I have to admit I was disappointed. I was totally sucked in by the premise -- a Tacoma, Washington police detective named Wyatt becomes obsessed with a local meth manufacturer and would-be kingpin whose latest alias is Howard Schultz (as in the Starbucks chairman). Wyatt has a lot of cases but he's convinced Howard is a major player and pursues him at the expense of friendships and his stripper/barista girlfriend. Meanwhile, Howard, high on his own supply, is devising a plan to create a permanent meth lab which will revolutionize his business while eluding capture and jail time.

I learned a lot from this book about the mechanics of the meth trade, its idiosyncrasies within the legal system and its association with other crimes committed by "tweekers," chiefly (and non-spoilery) identity theft. But the further the book delved into the cat-and-mouse games of Howard trying to avoid Wyatt and the other long arms of the law, the less I believed their actions. In the book's climax, the drugged-up Howard was probably the most believable character, and I believe I still may have uttered an exasperated "Oh, come on!" in his pivotal scene.

I liked the topical Northwest references (Nordstrom, Puyallup, Death Cab for Cutie) and I thought the book did a great job of establishing the setting, but if you're looking for a thriller, this doesn't quite do the trick. I compare it to "CSI" because of the episodes I've watched, the ones I enjoy the least are those which focus on the personal lives of the detectives or rely on some suspect's emotional breakdown to solve the crime. I don't care who Gil Grissom is in love with, even if it does affect his job; it's okay if people behave irrationally, so long as it's believable. This book doesn't have a deus ex tearduct ending, but it's similarly hard to accept.

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