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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

 

Improbable Cause


Medium Blue: A Travis Berringer Novel
by Dennis Jenkins and Jim Backes
(Electric eBook Publishing, http://www.electricebookpublishing.com, 277 Pages)

Even for someone who has only seen one episode of Law and Order (if such a person exists) or one Cops show–even reaching all the way back to Perry Mason trials–it ought not take a rocket scientist to figure out that a story about a psychic cop would butt heads pretty quickly with the issue of probable cause, and it happens in Medium Blue by page 14. Saying right off that the protagonist, rooky cop Travis Berringer “sees things unseen by others”(to paraphrase the book jacket blurb) will not give away any of the story. Neither will mentioning that the fine grind of the plot is a serial murder investigation. That is also revealed by the book jacket blurb.

As a matter of fact, Medium Blue is a strange whodoneit for the fact that both who the main bad guy is and what it will take to catch him are pretty clear early on. The first big hint is in the initial FBI profile and the Jenkins/Backes team hits that drum several times, and we all have been convinced by the second drum beat what kind of idiots the FBI are. The story works its way though the slim of everyday crime like the drive-by shooting of a baby, incest, weeny-wavers, burglaries, teenaged crazies, and other everyday inhabitants of the zoo (“It really is a zoo out there,” says Frank Fauser, Berringer’s cop partner, “only instead of bars, separating the animals from the public, there’s us.”) while a serial killer stalks his victims and practices his “art.”

Against a background of tough-talking, dirty-mouthed cops and perps, Jenkins and Backes pretty much lay it all out for us to know in advance: who the villain is, who his final victim will be, how he will be found out, and what his fate will be. Doing so however takes nothing away from their masterful storytelling, because we have already been told the major problem: with a mind-reading cop, how do you establish a probable cause for arresting a killer and stopping the killing without the criminal justice system letting him go because psychic powers are not a justifiable reason for searching, seizing, and arresting a criminal. (This of course assumes that Congress has not passed a revised American Patriot Act that removes Probable Cause altogether as one of the criteria for making arrests.)

This reviewer as an observer rather than an actor in the story could have come up with a number of ways to trap the killer without incurring the problems with probable cause the cops had in Medium Blue, but the reviewer’s genius might have led to a few more victims, and stopping the killer was the real consideration, plus the clay feet of the story’s very human characters, that led to the story’s final spurt that solved in the last few pages all the problems it had raised.

One criticism might be the blatant deus ex machina on the final page that saves the very likeable protagonist Travis Berringer both from failure as an unemployed ex-cop or the pursuit of a career as a failure as a policeman. Being psychic and a cop are just not professionally compatible. One is inclined to forgive even a very large deus ex machina, however, when it serves the purpose of saving the ass of a thoroughly likable character, keeps his romantic life on track, and sets him up for the next “Travis Berringer Novel.” I really liked Travis Berringer and I want to read more about his adventures. Get back to your word processor, Jenkins and Bakes. Order Medium Blue directly from Amazon.com by clicking on the link below.

cover

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