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Spotlight on: Novels based on the hit CBS television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Max Allan Collins, Double Dealer (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation #1)
I would imagine that the first words out of the mouths of many Max Allan Collins fans reading this are: "Why is he writing CSI novels? Isn't he better than that?" and I would then have to imagine that they must have forgotten (or never knew) that, in between his various graphic novel and historical mystery projects, Collins has had a lively TV/movie tie-in sideline going on for some time now. Sure, his two Shamus awards are for entries in his Nathan Heller series (True Detective and Stolen Away, to be specific), but it was his novelization of Saving Private Ryan that gave him the "New York Times Bestselling Author" designation that has appeared on nearly every one of his book covers since.
In any case, the bottom line is that Collins writes intelligent, detail-oriented, fast-paced novels (mysteries for the most part) and so is a perfect fit for CSI. His experience writing in the voices of already-existent television characters (NYPD Blue, Dark Angel) also serves well in his representation of Grissom, Willows, Brass, Brown, Stokes, and Sidle: every line reads as if it were delivered by the actors; and remember, these are original plots, not novelizations of previously-filmed teleplays, making the result that much more admirable.
Double Dealer is the first novel in the series and contains a good amount of extra detailed history, in-depth predictive reenactments, and copious description, while still respecting the "reality" of the events from the first season. (Something that is also good to remember: later season events, relationships, and promotions are not reflected here, the only major drawback to reading a novel based on an ongoing television series.)
A mummified corpse is discovered that carries the same shooter's-signature as a more recently dispatched victim. However, true to form, Grissom considers the two to be separate cases until the evidence proves otherwise. I'm hesitant to provide too much detail about the plot but series fans will love how Collins follows the normal procedure of a typical episode in Double Dealer -- all the way down to the jaw-dropping climax and the non sequitur ending. In addition, he adds his own brand of humor, particularly in the form of in-jokes during an interrogation in a video store. (He not only name-drops his own innovative DVD Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market, but also a classic from a lead cast member's past.)
A satisfying read all around, Double Dealer enhances the CSI mythology without having to go outside the expected realm, and leaves plenty of room for further development, making it perfect for fans, but also approachable for the uninitiated. (Of course, this metafiction-loving reviewer would be tickled pink to see the worlds collide by having this novel adapted into a future CSI movie, bringing everything full circle.)
Max Allan Collins, Sin City (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation #2)
Max Allan Collins continues his second career (in addition to being an award-winning historical mystery writer and graphic novel scripter) of authoring the best TV/movie tie-ins in the business. Sin City repeats everything that was good about Double Dealer -- solid plotting, familiar characterization, loyalty to the format. It's the rare sophomore effort that improves upon its predecessor. That it is also longer makes this feat even more surprising.
Las Vegas earns its notorious nickname when a man's wife disappears and their neighbors suspect the husband, particularly since the wife gave them a secreted cassette tape with the husband threatening to dismember her recorded on it. Meanwhile, a stripper is murdered in the lapdance room at Dream Dolls (where Catherine used to work) and the surveillance cameras point to her boyfriend, who was not only under a restraining order, but also claims he was home watching the game at the time.
Sin City fulfills on all levels and the reader profits from the experience that author Collins has in writing for already-existing television characters. The voices are perfect and one can go from watching the television series to reading the novels seamlessly, which is likely the best compliment one can give to a genre that gains little respect from the literary community but has been vastly appreciated by TV watchers and readers alike for decades.
Max Allan Collins, Cold Burn (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation #3)
In the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, two wintry murders, separated by most of the continental United States, tax the resources of the Las Vegas CSI team. While Catherine, Warrick, and Nick remain on home turf to take care of the mysteriously wet and naked dead female dropped on a park trail, Sara and Grissom are on their way to a seminar in New York, a working vacation. Surprised by work in its midst, they come across an ad hoc funeral pyre in the middle of a snowstorm.
Author Max Allan Collins (with help once again from researcher and plotter extraordinaire Matthew V. Clemens) again delivers the forensic goods in Cold Burn, his third novel based on the popular television series. He stays faithful to the existing characters while taking advantage of the novel format, creating new storylines and suspects that fit the surroundings but that stretch the usual boundaries with their use of more realistic murders and even rough language. A highlight of this novel is watching Grissom learn new techniques when a Canadian CSI shows his particular skills in working a crime scene covered with snow.
I find reading the novels a perfect way to pass the time instead of watching another rerun for the fourth or fifth time, given how many stations are carrying the show in syndication. (Coincidentally, however, an episode that is referred to as "the Marks case" in Cold Burn was rebroadcast on the night I read about it, allowing me to get deeper insight into the actions of one of the regulars.) I still feel as if I have just begun this series, and I'm not about to stop now.
Max Allan Collins, Body of Evidence (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation #4)
The week begins for most people on Monday morning, but CSIs Catherine Willows and Nick Stokes are just ending their Sunday night shift when they get a call to go out to a local advertising agency because one of the partner's personal assistant has found child pornography on her boss's printer.
The investigation is instantly difficult because several of the employees are on vacation and it is impossible to tell who was in the office over the weekend. Sifting through this Body of Evidence is not going to be easy.
IT expert Tomas Nunez is called in to assist the technical part of the investigation and he discovers which computer the print command was sent from, but when the CSIs find multiple fingerprints on the keyboard of that station, they realize that they've got a real corker on their hands. Add to that their personal feelings about child pornography and this is going to prove to be one emotional case, with more than one instance of misguided accusation.
Elsewhere in Las Vegas, Gil Grissom, Warrick Brown, and Sara Sidle are called to investigate a woman's body discovered by a local citizen. The profile of the case is heightened instantly when her identity is confirmed as the long-missing secretary of Mayor Darryl Harrison.
Sheriff Brian Mobley immediately takes himself off the case because he has everything to gain by implicating the mayor in this crime: Mobley was planning to run against the mayor for his seat. Mobley's campaign manager Ed Anthony has been doing everything in his power to help Mobley, including several things he shouldn't have done.
Author Max Allan Collins is on a roll with these CSI novels, and Body of Evidence is no different. He captures the tone, setting, and characters from the television series perfectly, complete with the touches of humor that so wonderfully break the tension and illustrate the friendships that lie under the professional relationships.
The computer and Internet knowledge contained within Body of Evidence is just another example of the fine work done by Collins and researcher / co-plotter Matthew V. Clements (a true-crime writer in his own right and the co-author of several short stories with Collins collected in My Lolita Complex). The details are part of what makes CSI so fascinating, and Collins and Clemens do not skimp.
Tie-in novels like Body of Evidence are ideal for fans who are looking for an original CSI mystery during the summer rerun season. Plus, the stories are longer so, generally speaking, there is room for more detail and character development, making for a more fulfilling, multi-hour experience -- more like a CSI movie than a typical episode.
(Email me and let me know what you think.)