Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | March 12, 2012

Book Review: SCPD: THE CASE OF THE CLAW by Keith R. A. DeCandido

The Author Chronicles welcomes as this week’s guest author Keith R. A. DeCandido. Keith has written more than forty-five novels, as well as numerous novellas, short stories, comic books, essays, and articles. I first became acquainted with Keith’s work when my son handed me StarCraft: Ghost Nova, a novel based on the electronic game series. Keith has written both tie-in novels and original fiction, including Dragon Precinct, Guilt in InnocenceDark Sun: Under the Crimson Sun, Farscape: House of Cards, Serenity, Spider-Man: Down These Mean Streets, Resident Evil: Extinction, Star Trek: A Singular Destiny, Supernatural: Heart of the Dragon, and CSI: NY: Four Walls.

Join us Wednesday (March 14) for an interview with Keith!

SCPD: The Case of the Claw, now available in a trade paperback edition as well as an ebook, is the first in a new police procedural series set in a city filled with superheroes, supervillains, and ordinary people like you and me. The setting, a budget-strained, present-day alternate Earth, contains both the delightfully familiar — cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, and Atlanta), celebrities (Hugh Jackman, Clay Aiken, Moody Blues, and Angelina Jolie),and modern devices (GPS, PDA, eBook readers, radio, and television), and the extraordinary — sonic booms created by flying superheroes; ray guns; the frequent, extensive property destruction resulting from superhero-supervillain battles; a dangerous interdimensional portal opened during one of those battles; and frequent alien invasions. All are part of everyday life for the Super City citizens and the members of the S.C.P.D.

You might think that a city filled with superheroes like the Terrific Trio and the Superior Six would be an ideal place to live and work, but life in Super City is far from ideal. The city — a gritty place with a noir flavor — struggles with a budget strained by the constant reconstruction and too frequently loses ordinary citizens in the collateral damage resulting from superhero-supervillain fights. The city authorities maintain an uneasy relationship with their resident superheroes, who follow their own rules, regularly disregarding due process, compromising or destroying vital evidence when apprehending criminals, and rarely cooperating with city police department. The situation has become so difficult that a congressman from Montana has proposed a law to regulate the “costumed loonies.”

SCPD: The Case of the Claw takes place during a six-day time period. The story begins on a Sunday when the Bruiser — the super-strong “costume” who is as big as a house and, unlike most superheroes, usually works with the police — stops two patrolling officers and leads them to a mutilated murder victim. Both the method of the mutilation and the pen-and-ink drawing of an eagle’s talon on a yellow post-it note stuck on the victim’s forehead provide grim evidence that the mutated spree killer nicknamed the Claw has returned to town. The Claw, a half-man, half-bird supervillain, first appeared in Super City six years earlier and has returned twice since then. Although his previous victims include a police officer and a superhero, neither the superheroes nor the police have had any success in identifying or apprehending him.

While the police captain rallies the force to catch the Claw before he kills again, the commissioner complains of the beyond-budget overtime expense. The mayor, of course, demands action, but unlike the superheroes we’re used to seeing, Super City’s “capes” remain aloof. To unveil the identity of the Claw, the overworked S.C.P.D. detectives and the beat cops do their best to gather clues and piece together the evidence, but as in the real world, this isn’t the only case on their blotter. The city’s finest also have to deal with a drunken superhero, a domestic violence shooting, a hostage situation, and cleaning up the mess left by a savage superhero-supervillain confrontation — as well as the difficulties in their own personal lives.

Keith R. A. DeCandido at the Collingswood Book Festival

SCPD: The Case of the Clawis a delicious combination of genres, a well-constructed police procedural set in a comic-book, superhero-filled world. This is a tough, realistic world, where success is hard won, where things don’t always work out, and where the real heroes are the ordinary people trying to meet the challenges of living in such a world. Thus, SCPD: The Case of the Claw gives an engaging, unusual slant on the superhero genre, for it is not the story of the superheroes, who remain mostly in the background, but the story of average human beings, told from their perspective. Keith instills these characters — like the world-weary, about-to-retire veteran cop and his young, pony-tailed partner, who could easily become stock types — with freshness and individuality. Indeed, the fast-paced story, with its complex, believable characters, intriguing setting, unexpected plot twists, and unique, energetic style, appeals on many levels. I’m looking forward to following the development of these characters, both the normal humans and the superheroes, in future volumes of the series.

So, do the police succeed in capturing the Claw? Do they convince the superheroes to help? I’m not telling. You’ll have to read the book to find out.

From A. Kaplan (Penelopecat): “Keith R.A. DeCandido, veteran writer of TV and movie tie-in fiction, gives readers an all-too-rare original novel with this, the first in his S.C.P.D. series. It’s an effective fusion of superhero story and police procedural, with a central mystery that couldn’t be told without the superheroic elements, yet is solved through good old fashioned police work. DeCandido creates a well-thought-out world, where the common tropes of superhero comics butt heads with the legal realities of the real world.”

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