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Starting out with a confession seems like a way to go in a review of a mystery novel. Okay, here it is. I love Stephen White. This might seem like a questionable way to start a review, given that I can't be unbiased, but I figured if I confessed it up front, you'd give me a little leeway.
I met Stephen at a convention about 6 or 7 years ago. He was a gentleman, interesting and quiet, sensitive, clearly intelligent. I had read some of his books by then, and liked them. I have continued to find his work challenging, well-written and suspenseful. If I didn't like Cold Case, honestly, I'd tell you.
In Cold Case,, therapist Alan Gregory and his wife, DA Lauren Crowder are asked to join a taskforce that investigates "cold cases" - unsolved crimes, calling on the talents of a range of people - from forensics specialists, prosecutors, document analysts and legal professionals of all sorts The organization seeking them out is called "Locard" and is modeled on the Vidocq Society, a real organization that does much the same thing (http://www.vidocq.org/). Alan's background as a psychologist makes him a valuable resource as the organization tries to understand the nature of the victims of a murder; Lauren's access to local records and people (the crime happened in the Colorado Rockies, where Alan and Lauren live, makes her an equal asset.
White is at times compared to Jonathan Kellerman; they have similar (very similar) backgrounds, not only as writers but as psychology professionals who both have worked with pediatric oncology (how about that for coincidence). I used to recommend White to folks looking for "similar to Kellerman" but with the last few books White has written, the similarities are fewer. White is not necessarily seeking out psychopaths - Kellerman's evil-doers usually show psychotic or psychopathic tendencies which can be a little too scary. White looks often toward the power - the politics, the hospitals, the money where powerful people can hurt other people.
In unraveling the murders of two young women, the protagonist faces cultural differences (one victim was from a Japanese family), famous people who are protected by wealth or retinues of helpers and buffers, politicians and power of all sorts. Alan Gregory must talk with families who would rather not remember the deaths of two young women ,but would still like resolution in their lives.
One of the major interests that White's books have for me is that the Lauren Crowder character, who has been the primary protagonist in at least one of this series (Higher Authority) has multiple sclerosis. It is simply a fact of her life. As I live with a disability, I'm heartened that White has written a real live honest-to-god disabled protagonist with realism, and heart. Lauren's, and now Alan's (as they are married and Lauren is pregnant) lives must work with this concern. Lauren's health often interferes with her desires; she is often tired, and must do what, as White, in Gregory's voice, says "The MS Gods" tell her to do.
Cold Case starts out with a seemingly unrelated, almost innocently-told story of a visit that becomes a hostage/murder situation, and White ties the matters together amazingly well by the end of the book. One of the key characters is someone Lauren knows well - radio personality, psychologist and now U.S. Representative Raymond Welle, who was her brother-in-law in her first marriage. This complicates matters as family is somewhat involved, but so is the status of a major Colorado politician.
Alan Gregory can be annoying from time to time. He has a tendency (big surprise) to over-analyze everything (he's a psychologist, what can you expect?) and he can be a little fussy at times. But he's calm, he is courageous, assertive when he needs to be and sensitive when he needs to be. The advantage to having Dr. Gregory on your team is that people will tell him things they won't tell anyone else, and in Cold Case, this is necessary, because there is much to dig up in a seemingly random murder that is more than ten years old, and that hurt a lot of people.
White's appreciation of his home - the Boulder/Denver area and the mountains around it - is part of the pleasure of reading his books. The small towns that Lauren and Alan know, the places to eat and stay, the views of mountain and flowers all bring a sense of the area to the reader. (When I was at a convention in Boulder several years ago, trying to deal with the altitude, I said to Stephen "you get used to it, right?" "No", he said rather calmly (Stephen says everything rather calmly), "you never do." Thanks a lot. Another myth crushed.) I'm not sure I'd ever be best friends with Alan Gregory - I think I'd always worry that he was reading too much into what I was saying - but I'm very glad I've gotten to know him. And I would want him and Lauren on my side in any fight. White should be on the New York Times Best Seller list more often. If he'd written a bad book, I'd say so, but I'm not sure he's capable of that. He's gotten better with every book.
Reviewed by Andi Shechter, December 2000
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