Ten-Seven is the second Penns River Crime Novel I’ve read by Dana King (I reviewed the first one, Grind Joint, here) and it’s a special pleasure for me to read it not only because Dana is a fellow member of my writer’s group, but because he has one of the sharpest eyes and ears of any author I’ve ever read.
Penns River is a decaying old industrial town north of Pittsburgh, short of jobs and money, but not, unfortunately crime. “Doc” Dougherty is a skilled homicide detective who could easily have moved to a bigger city but has too much pride in his hometown to leave. He takes it as a personal affront when a murder is committed in his town, and lately, he’s been affronted a lot. At the beginning of Ten-Seven, an apparently random shooting has just taken place in the parking lot of the casino, and Doc is determined to chase every wispy lead until he catches the perpetrator. This time he has help: Teresa Shimp, a young officer trying to prove she really deserves to be on the force, and is more than simply a hire to keep the department from being sued for discriminating against female police candidates.
Through the course of the novel, we also check in with the crime-associated friends we’ve met in previous novels: Mike Mannarino, the head of the small-time local mafiosi; and Wilver Faison, a black teen-ager on the rise in the local drug-dealing business. They have less to do directly with the plot this time around than they did in Grind Joint, but I like how Penns River is such a small town that the criminal element almost can’t help rubbing against each other. The interdependence of drugs, muscle, and weapons means that one can’t act without it affecting everybody else in the web.
As usual, Dana’s eye for detail is what really makes the novel for me. In my review for Grind Joint I wrote that that book was as much a sociological study of a dying mill town as it was a crime novel, and that continues to be true. However, I do think the focus has shifted a bit–we get a better look this time around at the police force: new hires like Teresa Shimp and how they’re fitting into the culture; the machinations of deputy Jack Harriger, who’s gunning for Chief Stan Napierkowski’s job when he retires; the daily work life of patrol cop Sean Sisler, who also has a secret which could endanger him but actually ends up leading to an important break in the case.
I’m not much of a mystery or crime fiction reader myself, but it’s hard for me to believe this wouldn’t be one of the best such novels even a hard core fan would come across this year. But this would be equally as good for anyone interested in reading a closely-observed portrait of a town that’s hurting, and the crime and law enforcement institutions that play such an important part in corroding and sustaining that town.