The genre has decayed.
Since the 1970s, when Agatha Christie breathed her last and one half of Ellery Queen’s soul went the same way as Solar Pons’ creator, the mystery genre has been on a downward trend. Mystery novels grow fatter as the plots grow thinner–and gone are the classic detectives, and cases that turn on logic and clues rather than gore.
In Badge City: Notches, M.H. Norris does much to overturn these trends. Instead of a 100 page mystery spread out over the length of a phone book, we have a plot perfectly suited to its length. Norris, refreshingly, follows the dictums of Golden Age mystery: A) She plays fair with the reader. Though, at times, one wishes for a greater pool of suspects…Norris uses her pool to build into a perfectly realized twist of the knife which would do Christie proud. If you pay careful attention, and aren’t one to get hung up on well-placed red herrings, you just might realize who the killer is before Detective Torando. B) The character work is secondary to the mystery. In recent years, I’ve read a number of bestselling mysteries that have–and I counted the pages–50 pages of plot to 200 pages of backstory, character development, and long musings on baseball or music. What we’ve been inflicted with are short stories let to grow wild, like mushrooms, until the central stem can no longer support them. Norris wisely avoids this, and it comes across like a sea breeze
Norris’ research into real-life police procedure and abnormal psychology come off the page, and are treated very engagingly. I’m from a family of cops. You get used to authors blundering about, making up every form of insane crap, then championing their own “research.” Aside from some foibles with the climax, she has a wholly realistic police force. Bravo!
The dialogue is flawless and the characters engaging. I wish there had been a mite more descriptive prose, but I’m a Victorian in a world of Tweets (and should probably be ignored). The only thing I find to trip over is that, in the storm of corpses, it can be easy to lose track of which corpse is which. To be fair, I imagine the police feel similarly, so even if this was unintentional it does support the theme and progression of the book.
Frankly, what issues I personally had shoved aside, this is one of the best modern mysteries I’ve read. And, certainly, the best I’ve found thus far into 2015. Let us raise a glass to Norris, and that she may help to usher in another Golden Age!
M.H. Norris, if you’re reading this, I’m already impatient for the sequel.
(Full Disclosure: I edited this book for Pro Se Productions, but receive no remuneration of any kind for either my edit, sales, or this review.)