A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: Better than the first book, but I still had some issues with this suspenseful police procedural
Promoted to his own patrol beat after solving a series of anti-gay murders, Prince George County police officer Patrick St. James is happily deepening his relationship with his new lover, Dean, when more young, gay men start turning up dead. He and fellow officer Hank Capstone, now in a relationship of his own with a cute clerk from the local Seven-Eleven, face being outed by a blackmailer as they begin their investigation into the murders.
As the killings continue and the pressure to find the perpetrator intensifies, Pat and Hank go undercover again, and Dean has to face the sometimes harsh realities of loving a cop. When a chance DUI stop nets them a potential witness who implicates one of the most powerful men in the state, the two officers have to choose between risking their lives and letting the murderer get away scot-free.
Murder Most Gay Series
Task Force is the sequel to this author’s Murder Most Gay (reviewed by me here). Continuing the story of Prince George County, MD, rookie police officers Patrick St. James and Hank Capstone, it is a suspenseful police procedural with lots of man-on-man smexxin thrown in, and one that, although overall better than MMG, had some issues for me. Conceivably you could read this book as a stand-alone, but you really should pick up MMG first as it introduces the characters and sets the tone and gives explanation for things that are said here.
Set two weeks after the close of MMG, the story opens with Pat returning to his own nighttime patrol shift after a few weeks of light duty because of the happenings of the previous book. He and boyfriend Dean have shacked up, and his friendship with fellow rookie Hank is deepening. His regular patrol is pretty mundane compared to what he experienced in the Clan murders, but he isn’t complaining much. He and Hank are back-ups for each other with the blessing of their superiors, so neither man feels ostracized or fear of not getting the help they need in an emergency because of their orientation. One of their regular stops is to a local 7-Eleven where they get free coffee and chat up the cute clerk, Shawn, to whom Hank is very attracted (and it seems that the feelings are returned). The two couples begin to spend quite a bit of time together, including a sexy, relaxing weekend away. But not is all calm on the job front; they are threatened with being outed by an arrestee if the charges aren’t dropped, and they fall into what could be a career-making opportunity to help solve a recent murder streak when a routine DUI stop has the driver wanting to make a deal for what he knows. The resulting sting operation has Pat back in undercover mode and the bait for one of the most politically-powerful men in Maryland, and hopefully he can make it through alive.
Let me say upfront that this book was published a few years ago and I believe that Simpson has evolved as an author since. More recent stories I’ve read by him have been better and more tightly written. Additionally, it is well known that he is very knowledgeable in areas of the police, military and politics, and it clearly comes through in his writing. I always learn something from what he has to say through his characters and happenings.
The first thing I noticed was that this story is told in third-person omniscient POV instead of first-person from Pat as the previous book, which took a little getting used to as I had re-read MMG right before picking this up. Since there are quite a few characters — many of them interacting in the same scene — I found there was some head-hopping that occurred, and I had to both concentrate and re-read passages to make sure I knew whose head I was in.
There are several sub-plots in this book. First, there is the romance element between not only Pat and Dean, but (to a lesser degree) Hank and Shawn as well, which takes up much of the first half of the novel. Next are the day-to-day happenings of being a beat cop on the night shift. There is the blackmail sub-plot, and finally the murders and sting operation, which take up the second half of the book. Note that since this is told omnisciently, we are shown and told upfront who the killer is, so this is really not a mystery, per se, but a look into the sting op and the lengths sociopaths will go to make things go their way.
As with the previous offering, I liked the insight into the police procedure, which is sprinkled liberally through the story. Simpson shows us the uninteresting and even boring work — routine calls, paperwork, driving around, etc — along with the exciting stuff:
Police work wasn’t all right-wing clans blowing up gay bars and prostitute murders. On a normal shift he would have to deal with the mundane barking dog, landlord-tenant disputes and parking complaints…
For me, though I wouldn’t say that I was bored through the first half of the book, the heavy emphasis on the characters’ personal lives perhaps weighed it down a bit (the second part really picked up for me with the introduction of the murders and the sting op). Related to that, since we are seeing both Pat and Hank’s relationships, we get double the smexxin which I think may have been too much for the book. Additionally, there is a scene of partner-swapping, so if that bothers you, beware.
There is a scene where Pat and Hank go to the suspect’s office to inquire about a license plate and who was in the vehicle in question, and I feel I need to ask two questions about this. First, I’m no expert, but wouldn’t that be a job for a detective or someone with more experience (since Pat and Hank are still rookie beat cops)? Second, this scene (and the adjacent next one in a coroner’s office) is set during the day, and Pat and Hank work the night shift, so how could that happen? Were they on overtime or shift change to be working into the morning?
I have other questions, but unfortunately to bring them up here would necessitate including spoilers, so I won’t. Let’s just say that I wonder about the access any political figure has once he/she has been removed from office.
Lastly, I found several, annoying formatting and editing errors, which was surprising from this publisher.
I recommend this book to those who are fans of the author, read the first book, and/or like suspenseful police procedurals (though be sure to pick up book one first).