Welcome back to the Book Club! I suppose today’s feature could be classified under our spooky October theme, but for lack of a better term let’s just call it Spooky Club “adjacent.” Anyway, it’s high time for a good crime novel, and more to the point, a novel about actually solving crime. We’ll be spending a lot of future installments talking about the criminal side of things, so maybe it’s best we start with the good guys for a change. Get out your crime solving notepad and fit your best Dick Tracy fedora: it’s time for the TehBen Crime Stoppers Hotline y’all!
Patch Lane by S.F. Barkley introduces us to Officer Sarah Hastings of the Amber Forest Police department. Hastings is a good young cop, and despite the ankle weights of working a small town police force with some old world thinking, she’s developing into a pretty well respected officer of the law. Most trouble on her beat comes from the odd drunk driving arrest or traffic accident, save for one insanely creepy property on Patch Lane. This particular property is not a quaint suburban dream home, but instead is a decades long abandoned farm house. The supposed ghost stories about this place alone would be enough to ward off most trespassers, but a new wrinkle comes from repeated 9-1-1 hangups coming from that property. Officer Hastings is sent to investigate, and the creep factor immediately sets in for both the main character and reader. Mysterious calls, a hidden dead body, and some heinous criminal activity. Can Officer Hastings crack the case and keep her loved ones safe?
The novel is told solely from the first person prospective of Officer Hastings, and the bulk of the proceedings read like a police procedural. As a decades long fan of television shows narrated from this angle, I appreciate the effort and style within this genre. Hastings’ tone is welcoming and friendly, however we were given a lot more of her personal thoughts and anecdotes than I was expecting from a story told in this way. As Hastings slowly uncovers the mystery of an improbable murder, there is a good balance between clue discovery and some good old fashioned police work. The personal touch of the MC’s perspective is best seen through her work with an FBI agent who becomes her pseudo partner as the mystery unravels into a sophisticated criminal undertaking. Maybe let’s not call it sexual tension as that’s not explored in any great detail, but these two make a great pair and their feelings for each other show some true professional chemistry.
No matter what new wrinkle to the story is added from the latest clue or lead, it all seems to circle back to Hastings in some way. It’s intriguing to have a main character so ingrained into the fabric of the good and evil elements of a crime story, however it grew a bit perplexing for me. It’s perfectly natural for a main character to be the most important person in a story, however with the level of detail added to the novel by the police procedural experience, I was expecting more of a “cog in the system” approach. Officer Hastings is a great cop, but at some points she appears like the full unquestioning protagonist of reality, only held back by being in a police system that is making her do things by the book. It’s not egregious, and it certainly doesn’t rob from the overall mystery, it just feels like a bit of an unexpected compromise. In the end, Hastings saves the day, so I guess we can all get on board with her being the woman of the hour, she’s earned that much.
Verdict: Patch Lane by S.F. Barkley is an exciting police procedural inspired murder mystery novel that tells a truly interesting story. With a full range of twists and turns, the mystery is engaging and will keep most readers guessing all the way through to the conclusion. The protagonist may be a bit more ingrained in the fabric of the plot elements than I was expecting, but the chilling mystery hits its stride though the secondary characters with which the MC engages. For all the novels that champion the renegade criminal or deranged anti-hero, it’s refreshing to have an exciting story with a hero worth looking up to. I’d like to see more of this main character, she’s welcome on my beat any time.
Special thanks to S.F. Barkley and Between the Line Publishing for supplying an Advance Review Copy of Patch Lane to TehBen.com for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Author’s Twitter: @barkley_f
Purchase Link: Amazon