I do love a good police procedural series. So Frank Zafiro is here today to share an excerpt from his new book, The Worst Kind of Truth, as well as his Top 10 Police Procedural Series (TV and Books) and a bonus excerpt. Let him know what you think in the comments section! And then download your copy before you move on through the tour. Best of luck entering the giveaway!
Detective Katie MacLeod has her hands full.
It has been four years since her promotion to detective, and after paying her dues in property crimes investigations, she has made it to the Major Crimes unit. This is where the highest profile cases land—homicides, robberies, serious assaults, and sexual assaults.
Katie catches two rape cases almost back-to-back. One victim is a prostitute with an unknown suspect… who Katie fears may be gearing up for more assaults. The other victim is a college student who has accused her boyfriend, a popular baseball player, of raping her at a party.
Both cases have their own set of perils. Katie juggles her time investigating each one, encountering many obstacles—a lack of evidence in one, and wondering how to parse conflicting statements in the other.
As she battles past these difficulties, Katie faces another fact… that both cases hit home with her in very different ways. Solving them becomes more than just a job for her, but something deep-seated and personal… something that may exorcise some of her own demons from the past.
Or will they consume her?
The woman in the emergency room hospital bed glanced away from Detective Katie MacLeod to fidget with the edge of the blanket. She looked down at her hands, avoiding Katie’s gaze. Her greasy brown hair with blond highlights hung limply past her shoulders. The state identification card she’d given Katie only a few minutes prior stated she was twenty-seven-years-old and five-foot-five. Not tall, Katie thought, but not tiny, either. Even so, she seemed smaller to the detective at the moment. Thinner, too, than the weight listed on the state ID.
“Nicole?” Katie asked gently. “Do you remember what happened next?”
Nicole nodded but didn’t speak.
Next to the bed, Crystal Docking took Nicole’s hand. Crystal was even thinner than Nicole, with sunken cheeks, black stringy hair, and dark eyes filled with anger. “He raped her, okay?” Crystal snapped. “She already told the nurse, who called you. Why does she have to say it again?”
On patrol, and even during her first year or two as a detective, Crystal’s interference would have frustrated Katie. She was a professional police officer, trying to accomplish an important task. People who got in the way of that were obstacles to her getting the larger job done. To make matters worse, hers was a job that usually had high stakes, so impediments had consequences.
Maybe it was her years of experience—seventeen years as a cop now, all told—or perhaps it was the result of staring down the big four-oh a couple of birthdays away, but she’d become far more patient these days. Instead of getting frustrated, she became efficient.
And right now, the most efficient thing to do was to ignore Crystal Docking.
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Caveat the First: I chose this topic because River City is a series of police procedurals, and I thought it’d be nice to explore other “If you like this, then you’ll like that” entries in TV and books.
Caveat the Second: These are my favorites. As always, your mileage may vary. But the truth in the first caveat holds true—if you like any of these, you’ll probably like most of the others, including my River City series.
Here we go:
10. 509 Crime Stories (Colin Conway)
Had to start things off with a nod to my co-author of the Charlie-316 series (which you can count as an honorable mention!). His gritty but accessible 509 series features an ensemble cast of detectives, with the role of lead protagonist rotating. The beauty of this is that the reader gets various takes on different characters through the eyes of their co-workers. Plus, the mysteries the men and women of SPD face are well-crafted.
9. Harry Bosch/Bosch TV series (Michael Connelly)
You already know this one, I’m betting. On quality alone, this series of novels and the show starring Titus Welliver deserve to rank higher. The reason I put it here is that Bosch isn’t an ensemble—it’s Bosch. It’s very good but the focus is on one main character instead of the team. Still, the focus on investigative technique is excellent, and secondary characters do get their moments.
8. NYPD Blue
Speaking of ensemble, this show gets closer to the feel of River City. Although there are definite leads in this show centered on an NYPD detective squad (first David Caruso’s John Kelly and then Dennis Franz’s Andy Sipowicz), the secondary characters get a lot of screen time and are well developed. Additionally, the variety of cases that come through are interesting, as are the methods the detectives employ to solve those cases.
7. Badge of Honor (W.E.B. Griffin)
The great thing about this series is how Griffin tells the stories vertically. The reader experiences the action on the street with the patrol officer, the detective for follow-up, the leadership within the department as it reacts, even what happens in the mayor’s office. These books inspired me to do the same at times.
6. The Shield
Not for everyone, due to its edgy nature, this show may focus on Vic Mackey but the rest of the Strike Team and the members of the Barn get their chance to shine. Excellent tension throughout, tremendous exploration of police morality, and one of the best endings to any TV series.
5. Hill Street Blues
Although dated now, many people recall this as the quintessential ensemble police drama. And until Southland, I’d say it was the best.
4. Isola (Ed McBain)
Early in my career, this was the series that many pointed to as a comparison for River City. Like Conway’s 509, the lead protagonist role floats.
If people wonder what the most realistic police show is, I say Barney Miller. But police drama? This one. It may stretch belief that all of the things that happen involve such a small cast of players, but everything that occurs is realistic, and is handled that way. Only downside is the cliffhanger series finale.
2. The Wire
This pinnacle of TV crime drama contains some of the best characters and writing ever. Like The Shield, it may not be for everyone due to graphic content. But the scope of the storytelling is virtually unrivaled, and while it may have been as much about the criminals as the police (and actually, the main character is Baltimore itself, and its institutions), I didn’t have the heart to rank it any lower than second.
1. The Works of Joseph Wambaugh
Any retired cop writing police procedurals owes a debt to Wambaugh. He was the one who started it all. The idea that crime fiction could be written by a cop came to fruition when he wrote such classics as The New Centurion and The Choirboys. I recognize that these titles may not be viewed in the same light now as when they were first released—times change, as they should—the fact remains: Wambaugh wrote about realistic cops doing realistic police work before anyone else did. And because he did, generations of crime fiction writers who were also cops are doing the same. River City owes a debt to him, and so do I.
“Thanks,” Nicole said.
Katie looked at her. “This wasn’t your fault, Nicole. I wish I could change that it happened to you but I can’t. But I am going to do my best to catch the man that did this to you.”
“You’ll catch him,” Nicole said.
“I’ll do my best,” Katie repeated. She knew better than to make promises to victims, no matter how tempting it was.
“You’ll catch him,” Nicole repeated. “I know it. You’ve done it before.”
Katie cocked her head. “What do you mean?”
Nicole looked at her intensely. “I know who you are. I recognized your name as soon as you came in.”
That didn’t surprise Katie. She’d been involved in a number of high-profile incidents during her career. The media coverage wasn’t always favorable, either. But Nicole’s stare didn’t have the anger or blame that came with that sort of attitude. Instead, it resonated with belief.
“This happened to my mom,” Nicole said. She looked away to pluck more tissues and wipe her eyes. “A long time ago. I was fifteen at the time.”
Katie did some quick math. That meant her mother was assaulted in 1996 or 1997. And ninety-six was the year of—
“What’s your mother’s name?” Katie asked. Her heart-rate quickened as she waited for the response. Her mind flashed back to that case, back when she was a patrol officer. She ran through the names of the victims of that man, all of them indelibly imprinted upon her memory… and then she knew what Nicole would say.
“Maureen Hite,” said Nicole, just as Katie expected. “She was attacked by him. The Rainy Day Rapist.”
“I remember,” Katie said, quietly. Images of her and Thomas Chisolm searching a parking lot on the north side flashed through her mind. Of her finding Maureen Hite huddled near the front wheel well of a Chevy Blazer. She could still see the stark blue and white stripes of the quarter-panel and the door beside the woman. Maureen’s baffled expression, lost and fearful. “How is she now?”
Nicole shook her head. “She died six years ago. Pills.”
“I’m… I’m sorry.”
“She never really got over it,” Nicole said.
Katie nodded. “I don’t think it’s something you get over. It’s not a cold. You just learn to live with it.”
“Yeah, well, she didn’t really learn how. Or only for a while.”
“I’m sorry, Nicole.”
“Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault. You caught him. You caught him and you killed him.” Nicole’s jaw was set and her eyes burned brightly. “I know you’ll do the same for me.”
Katie Macleod stared back at her, unable to answer.
Frank is the award-winning author of over three dozen novels, most of them crime fiction. These include his River City series of police procedurals, Stefan Kopriva mysteries (PI), SpoCompton series (hardboiled), Jack McCrae mysteries (PI), and Sandy Banks thrillers. He has also co-authored multiple series with other authors, including the Charlie-316 series (procedurals with Colin Conway), Bricks and Cam Jobs (action, dark comedy with Eric Beetner), and the Ania series (hardboiled with Jim Wilsky).
In addition to writing, Frank hosted the crime fiction podcast Wrong Place, Write Crime. He has written a textbook on police report writing and taught police leadership all over the US and Canada. He is an avid hockey fan and a tortured guitarist. He currently lives in the high desert of Redmond, Oregon.
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