The Night Crew by John Sandford
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
"Louis, calling from the truck seventy-five feet away, excited: 'Jesus, Anna, we got a jumper on Wilshire, he's on ledge.'"
I liked several books by John Sandford (a pseudonym of John Camp): three or four early installments of his "Prey" series as well as some shorter-series works are pretty good reads. Alas, Night Crew (1997) is much below the level one could expect from the author. The beginning is promising, with an interesting setup and competent writing. Unfortunately, as is the case with most bestselling mystery/suspense/crime novels, after a good start the plot fizzles. The phenomenon is so common that one could undertake a study to examine how badly the later parts of novels compare with their beginnings and also how early the sudden drop of quality occurs. Here, the plot flatlines already before page 50.
The "night crew" is a group of video freelancers who cruise the streets of Los Angeles, waiting for fires, shootings, high-speed chases, and other emergencies to film them and then to sell the footage to TV stations. The plot begins with the crew, Anna, Creek, Jason, and Louis, filming a "liberation raid" on the UCLA campus, where the commandos are freeing the laboratory animals from their cages. The action quickly moves to a "jumper", a young man on a ledge of a tall building, threatening suicide (see the epigraph). This part of the story is plausible, moves fast, and the writing resembles the John Sandford that I know. Tense, edgy, high-strung prose perfectly captures the situation dynamics.
Alas, the good stuff is over quickly and we meet the "two-faced man", who assumes the role of an arch-villain. Yeah, right... There are thousands of crime/mystery novels with arch-villains, every single one being more arch- than every other. Since it takes imagination to invent something new for the plot and since readers seem to buy the stereotypical arch-villain stuff, why not copy hundreds of other plots? Until the very end the plot stays mundane, artificial, and implausible. A grieving father, who has just lost his son, is flirting away with Anna. The romantic thread between one of the crew and a female police detective is even sillier. Did Mr. Camp hire an inept ghostwriter? Overall: a waste of time.
One and a half stars.
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