After Cooley’s excellent debut novel Ice Shear I was looking forward to a long series of mysteries with excellent writing. Sadly, this is not to be. Flame Out is a major drop in quality. The author’s gift for description is still on display, and barely nudges the overall rating into 3-star territory, but the plot is way too convoluted and implausible. There are so many characters with confusing family relationships that I lost track of who was connected to whom and how early on. The last 100 pages or so were more like a homework assignment than a pleasure. I suggest starting a spreadsheet and a genealogical chart when you begin this one.
The author’s lack of actual law enforcement knowledge was all too evident in this book. I found it telling that the acknowledgments in Ice Shear included two police officers by name, but there were none in this book other than “all the people that lent their expertise in law enforcement.” I wouldn’t want my name associated as police advisor on this one, either.
Both books have a recurring FBI character who is supposed to be the SAC of Albany Division. As an FBI agent retiree I found Cooley’s lack of FBI knowledge in Ice Shear slightly distracting, but in Flame Out, it’s positively ludicrous. In both books this SAC is trying to recruit June, the lead character and a former agent, to come back into the FBI. He rides around with her on interviews and other mundane police investigation. Neither one of these things would ever happen with an SAC. He’s both too high up and too low down for either task. SAC Albany is a mid-management position about equal to the colonel of an army base. You won’t find him cleaning the latrines and doing KP (below his pay grade) nor would he be the one to appoint the first openly gay Muslim to pilot Air Force One (above his pay grade). Allowing a resigned agent back in has never been done and would take FBI Director approval, and then only if that person had very unique (i.e., only person in the country) skills that were badly needed. There wasn’t even any FBI jurisdiction in this case, at least not at the point the SAC became involved. His whole presence is a puzzling and pointless irritation. I thought he might turn out to be a love interest, but that hasn’t happened either. C’est la vie.