“Suspect,” the latest book by award-winning mystery novelist Robert Crais, is the story of Scott and Maggie. Scott is officer Scott James, a seven-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who was seriously wounded in a shootout eight months earlier that killed his partner, Stephanie, and several other people. Battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Scott is haunted by flashbacks, a nagging sense of guilt that he failed Stephanie, and an obsession to know every detail of the shooting, including the identity of his partner’s killers. Refusing to take medical disability retirement, Scott is also impaired by the physical pain of his wounds. Unwilling to take a desk job and despite never really having had any experience with dogs, he accepts a position with the LAPD’s K-9 platoon.
Maggie is an 85 pound German Shepard and former military working dog with the U.S. Marine Corps. While serving her third tour in Afghanistan, she kept her platoon from stepping into an ambush but her handler, Pete, was killed by an insurgent sniper. While Maggie was standing over Pete’s dying body to protect him, the sniper also shot her twice for her trouble. Discharged from the Corps, Maggie finds herself donated to the LAPD. She also has PTSD, it is a verified fact dogs can suffer from it also, lingering effects of her gunshot wounds, an aversion to strangers and loud noises and a sense of loss from Pete’s death since he was the alpha of their pack of two.
Like Scott, she is considered unfit for duty. Together, the two have to learn to trust each other, work together and overcome the effects of their individual traumas.
While “Suspect” has a supporting cast of cops and criminals and deals with murder and robbery, the story is, at its core, a tale of two wounded misfits who have been pushed aside and must prove themselves once again. “That poor animal is unfit for this job and I suspect the same about [Scott]...They are suspect,” Scott’s commanding officer remarks to a colleague. As Scott and Maggie begin to train together, they also quietly and unofficially investigate Scott’s shooting. They quickly discover the killings were part of a larger criminal conspiracy that hits close to home.
One creative approach Crais used was to write short chapters that delved into Maggie’s point of view. Of course, all of them were presented by describing her emotions, rather than actual thought (she’s not Scooby-Doo, after all) but they went far in explaining why dogs behave as they do and why they are “man’s best friend.” As Scott’s commanding officer explains, “Dogs do what they do to please us or save us. They don’t have anything else. We owe them no less.” Another interesting technique was discussing how dogs see the world through their sense of smell.
“Suspect” is an expertly written novel by an accomplished author. Crais has taken the buddy-cop, police procedural formula and gone in a completely new direction. The emotional and physical costs of war and police work and the interdependent bond between a man and his dog, are explored in a touching, realistic manner. The prologue, which covered Pete’s death, was particularly heartbreaking. If you are a fan of police mysteries and/or dogs, you will likely enjoy “Suspect.”
Darren Ivey is a firefighter and a Manhattan resident.