This classic police procedural features major crimes detective sergeant Brad Braun, a big fellow with a beard. The pun on “brawn” is intended by the author; he even sticks in a joke about looking like the Brawny Paper Towels guy. It takes place in and around Pasco County, Florida. The serial killer, Troy, is a recently fired TV news anchor now scraping by as a field reporter at a down-market station. This is revealed right at the beginning, so it’s no spoiler. He likes to strangle young women and then freeze them and saw them up with a hacksaw. He does this in order to be first on the scene with a camera crew and make a name for himself in the newsroom. Hacksaw becomes his nickname in the press since he leaves notes with the bags of body parts.
There are things to like and things not to like about the book. As former law enforcement, I appreciated that Braun was polite and professional at all times, not one of these wacko antihero cops. He even lives near his parents and sees them regularly like a good son. The investigation was also straightforward and credible, exactly as I believe a homicide detective would proceed. That allowed me to get into the story. The flip side of that, though, is that the investigation itself was rather boring. It consisted mostly of responding to crime scenes, interviewing people who didn’t see anything, and reviewing camera footage that didn’t show anything useful. There were no “aha!” moments or great insights from Braun or any other cop. No Sherlock Holmes here.
All the action was driven by Troy, who, unfortunately, is not a credible character. To insert some action the author described the murders and dismemberments in some detail, which I found distasteful. The other downside to this style is that there just wasn’t much of a plot, so the author filled up a lot of pages with irrelevant descriptions. He describes every building Braun enters in detail, telling us how many left and right turns it took to get wherever, what was in the offices or the hallways, the decor of every restaurant, what Braun ate. It was obvious to me as a writer that he was just trying build up enough pages to fit the publishers’ required minimum. Still, I liked that he didn’t do that with sex or romance. There’s a hint of a romance for Braun in the story line but it doesn’t distract as in some other novels in the genre. The bottom line is that this is not a mystery – we know who the killer is from the beginning – it’s just a step by step description of police response until the good guys catch up with the bad guy. The writing was journeyman quality. There’s enough action to satisfy people who require that but I would have preferred more of a plot. This is the first in a series. I doubt I’ll read more of them.