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Red Line: A Detective Matt Sinclair Mystery


Red Line: A Detective Matt Sinclair Mystery

Hardcore mystery and thriller fans (almost) always have a set of favorite authors but also are constantly seeking new ones to add to their list. There are few greater joys than discovering either a veteran author with a significant backlist or a newcomer at the beginning of what is certain to be a brilliant career. As an example of the latter, please allow me to introduce you to Brian Thiem and his debut novel, RED LINE.

Thiem knows his stuff. He worked for a quarter-century in the Homicide Section of the Oakland Police Department --- a locale where he never lacked for cases, to be sure --- while also serving in the Army on reserve duty in Criminal Investigation. There is more, but you get the general picture. His novel seems infused with this experience, resulting in a work that combines fiction with a gritty, real-world viewpoint devoid of the political correctness that spoils, if not outright ruins, some other books in the genre of late.

"Thiem reminds me of Joseph Wambaugh in some places and Michael Connelly in others. Yes, he’s that good, and his best work may well be ahead of him."

RED LINE introduces Matt Sinclair, a world-weary Oakland P.D. homicide detective. A year before the book’s present time, two teenage girls were left at a bus stop near an Oakland hospital after having been drugged and raped. The experience ended even more tragically for one of them. Sinclair had been assigned to the case but was forced to take a step back after an incident that left the department in an uproar and Sinclair shaken, barely holding onto sobriety.

Sinclair no sooner returns to the Homicide Division than he is called to a new case that is hauntingly familiar. A teenage boy is found dead of an apparent drug overdose on the same bus stop bench where the two girls had been left a year before. When another body is deposited on the bench --- a woman this time, and a staged suicide --- it becomes clear that someone is attempting to send a message to the public and the police. Sinclair and the Homicide Division use good old-fashioned police work and deduction to make a series of connections between the two girls from the previous year, the teenage boy and the woman, and the victims who follow.

Meanwhile, the killer pursues his mission of vengeance, seemingly at will. A series of vignettes demonstrate that he knows Sinclair all too well and has targeted him. But why? And, perhaps just as importantly, how? Sinclair is also dealing with a relationship that is fraught with potential conflicts of interest, even as his grip on his sobriety --- something he must maintain if he is to keep his job --- grows increasingly more difficult to maintain. As he juggles multiple chainsaws, he eventually identifies the mysterious killer and is horrified to discover how close the fiend really is. The last quarter of the book is a race against time as Sinclair attempts to find the murderer before he strikes again and destroys Sinclair’s life permanently.

With Oakland being so close to San Francisco, Thiem might have succumbed to the temptation of using Oakland as a home base while keeping the action across the bay. While San Francisco is briefly featured here, he keeps things grounded in the rough streets of his home port, introducing the reader to a place just as varied and, on a lesser scale, as interesting as her more popular sister across the bay. The star of the proceedings, though, is Sinclair, who hopefully has a long life and series in front of him. Thiem reminds me of Joseph Wambaugh in some places and Michael Connelly in others. Yes, he’s that good, and his best work may well be ahead of him. Jump on now.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 11, 2015

Red Line: A Detective Matt Sinclair Mystery
by Brian Thiem

  • Publication Date: August 11, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
  • ISBN-10: 1629531944
  • ISBN-13: 9781629531946