The Premise: Police officer Scott James is on the cusp of a great career promotion from lowly street cop to a cop in the esteemed LAPD Metro Division when everything goes wrong. In the span of just a few minutes, Scott and his partner Stephanie--while searching for a pop-up noodle joint--are involved in a brutal heist (by chance) that ends with Stephanie dead and Scott physically and mentally scarred. Having been shot at point blank range before he passed out, Scott's last memories are of his partner's haunting words, "Scotty, don't leave. Don't leave me, Scotty!" as he tried to crawl his way back to the patrol car to radio for help.
Driven by guilt and the bitter need for closure, Scott refuses to take medical pension or retire and instead, trains to join the LAPD K-9 unit (despite the fact that he has never been around dogs) as a last resort. It is there that he meets Maggie, a retired 85lb German shepherd who has had her own share of tragedy and heartbreak as a working military dog in Afghanistan. Bruised but perhaps not yet broken, both Scott and Maggie will have to learn how to trust in a partner again and prove to those around them that they are capable of getting back on their feet, and paws, to bring Stephanie's murderers to justice.
**May Contain Spoilers**
The Players: There are always a plethora of characters in these kinds of fiction novels, but the main characters here are Scott James, Sergeant Leland, Maggie, and Detective Joyce Cowly. Scott is a 30-something year old police officer whose life is shattered and haunted by the murder of his partner Stephanie. Physically unable to fulfill his duties as a street cop, Scott gets into the K-9 unit through luck, sympathy, and pity. Sergeant Leland, a self-proclaimed (and heavily endorsed) "dog man," is the leader of the K-9 unit and he tells Scott that he doesn't belong. But Sergeant Leland is a man with all bark and no bite--the kind of man you'd want watching your back, and someone who clearly loves dogs. Out of sympathy and perhaps hope, he gives Scott a 2 week period to re-train Maggie, an 85lb military dog with severe PTSD, who has just physcially recovered from being shot by a sniper in Afghanistan while protecting her now-deceased handler, Pete.
Maggie, described as beautiful and large German shepherd with a hip injury, is a special creature that is full of doggyness but also seems human (though the author never pretends that she is). We get a rare treat when parts of the book are told from Maggie's perspective--no, nothing philosophical or deeply complex, but rather simple and very doggy thoughts. But the force of Maggie's sadness, her joy, and her overwhelming need to protect her Alpha and her pack emanate through the pages always.
Detective Joyce Cowly is, in my opinion, the last major character of the book. She is introduced as a detective who takes over Stephanie's murder case, and later, she becomes a crucial part of Scott's investigation into the possible cover-up and corruption of the police department. Tough, yet feminine Joyce is a strong character without being overbearing, and she seems very genuine through the pages.
Overall Impressions: I love Suspect because it is so down-to-earth and realistic, even though parts of the story are told from Maggie's doggy perspective. Scott is a tormented soul who never pretends to be a hero, and although he's haunted by his partner's murder, he doesn't lie down and call it quits. He survives and makes damn sure that his survival counts for something. His devotion to finding justice for his deceased partner is both touching and painful to read---every day he tells the Stephanie in his dreams (and nightmares) that he didn't leave her...that he never left her...and that he will NEVER stop until he finds out who killed her. These thoughts are immensely powerful and heart-wrenching as we watch Scott live with guilt in knowing that he can never tell Stephanie that he wasn't leaving her that night. Through all of this, Scott remains incredibly human and relateable. He sees a shrink because he has to, and although he tries to be tough, he has moments of debilitating sadness that we would expect all victims of brutal violence.
Maggie's pain is also tangible--her fierce loyalty to her previous Alpha (Pete) is so beautiful and her devotion so complete. It's incredibly heartbreaking yet totally understandable (from an animal lover's perspective) that Maggie would continue to shield Pete with her own body even under heavy sniper fire because she just loves him so much. If you choose to read the book, you'll understand how important pack is to Maggie and just how wonderful she is.
This sense of pain in both our main characters is what brings Scott and Maggie together. In Scott's case, he sees Maggie as the opposite of him--someone who stayed with her partner even though she herself was getting shot. Maggie is a constant reminder to him that Stephanie thought he had left her, even though we as the audience know that this is not true. But Scott also sees a kindred soul in Maggie--an officer whose partner has been killed in the line of duty and one who is now incomplete. Together, Scott and Maggie work to become a pack again, finding solace in each other and learning to be whole and happy once more.
Suspect by Robert Crais is a truly beautiful book for all dog and animal lovers. The mystery/conspiracy aspect of the plotline is nothing new or astounding, but enough to keep you interested if you are absolutely intent in solving Scott and Stephanie's case. For me though, as with many books, the characters are of utmost importance, and Scott and Maggie were simply wonderful leads. Their pain, their shared experiences of joy and understanding--nothing really shows just how great humans and their best friends can be together like such honest and simple interactions. Scott learns how to be a "dog man," and Maggie learns to trust in her new Alpha. He is hers, and she his. Devotedly. Lovingly. Completely. Together they are far greater than the sum of their parts, and you'll be rooting for the both of them the entire way. If you've got a few hours to spare, definitely pick up a copy of Suspect!