“City of Fire” by Robert Ellis: A Book Review

Spoilers ahead.

I’m breaking my rule this time because I want to get into the nooks and crannies of this book, so sorry.

The book, the first in a new series starring the detective, Lena Gamble, is the cat-and-mouse game between Gamble, along with her fellow detectives, and a sadistic rapist-killer known affectionately as Romeo. In the background is Gamble’s history wherein her brother was brutally murdered five years ago and corruption concerns in the LAPD itself.

First and foremost, Romeo is a really effective killer, albeit somewhat cliche. He completely shaves his body — there is literally no hair anywhere on him — and sculpts it to perfection as an avid body builder and someone that doesn’t eat processed food. It’s a bit of a stereotypical trait of a crime fiction serial killer: the obsessive killer that treats his body as a temple. Moreover, he has something of a split-personality, wherein he imagines he has a best friend named Finn that tells him what to do and “spots” his workouts and more importantly, his kills. That, too, is a bit of a cliche.

But still, he’s a worthy adversary for Gamble and I appreciate Ellis’ work in this because he actually worked with the LAPD’s homicide unit.  I appreciate authors that go that extra mile to bring as much authenticity to the story as possible and it shows in some parts. Other parts, like how taken aback Gamble and her veteran-near-retirement partner, Novak, were by crime scenes and autopsies. I’m thinking, especially with the latter, they should be grisly detectives, not acting as if this is their first dead body.

Then the most frustrating part of the book is when Gamble’s dead brother’s band member friend is killed alongside another girl. Naturally, they suspect it’s the work of Romeo. The police have a gun that matches the death of the brother’s friend with the gun that actually killed the brother. They have Romeo’s matched DNA from his semen left at the crime scene — matching the previous scenes, that is. It looks like the brother’s friend committed suicide with the gun. And the girl that was also killed matches the MO of Romeo’s previous kills. And yet, for an unexplained reason, Gamble and Novak are pissed off at the LAPD’s brass and refuse to believe the findings. Moreover, Gamble starts suspecting another detective, Rhodes, of being behind the staging and corruption.

Now, it makes since later on when we find out that Novak staged the whole thing because his 16-year-old daughter was sleeping with Gamble’s brother, but what was their basis for disputing it? Merely because Gamble didn’t want to believe it?

I really don’t nitpick books and I can let a lot of stuff slide, but that just bugged me. Moreover, there’s a scene where Romeo surprises Gamble at her house and attempts to rape here. Apparently, Rhodes — who is actually a good detective, not gone bad — had been keeping tabs on Gamble to try to protect her. He was there at the scene at the time. And yet, Romeo managed to get away and this is unexplained.

Furthermore, Gamble discovers that contrary to what it seemed like, her brother was actually shot and killed in her bedroom and then staged inside his car. But wouldn’t any competent coroner realize that the body had been moved post-mortem?

Anyway, those are my gripes, along with authors feeling the need to twist things up at the end with big reveals. Sometimes that’s just not necessary. All the same, the Lena character was a good one, well developed and interesting. It’s a good start for a series based on her activities as a detective. And the story itself is interesting because the serial killer and his motive — righteously saving the damned — was interesting and I liked following along with that clash.

If you’re a fan of the crime fiction genre, there’s some books I’d probably recommend before this one, but this isn’t a bad way to spend a few days.

City of Fire

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