Books

Detective series uses Des Moines as backdrop

Author B.J. Smith lives in Colorado, but he knows Des Moines well. In “North of Grand,” the second entry in his Detective Red Shaw series, Smith takes us to the mean streets of the state capital in search of a killer — or possibly killers — with a connection to the world of competitive cycling.

“North of Grand” is a straightforward police procedural, and we follow Detective Shaw and his partner, Detective Vega, as they follow up on leads, play a few hunches, have a bit of luck, and close their case. Smith does a particularly good job integrating the use of computers — the police search for information, social media accounts, and more online — without detracting from the worn shoe leather approach to investigation that drives fiction of this kind.

A few details are a bit wonky in the narrative. For example, the two detectives discuss a specific murder weapon just before their contact lets them know what weapon was used. Also, Smith doesn’t always do enough to differentiate one character from another. “North of Grand” isn’t particularly long or overly twisty, but I often had to backtrack to remember who a given character was when they returned to the storyline.

Nevertheless, the novel is engaging and Shaw is an intriguing character. He’s flawed enough to be interesting, upstanding enough to root for, and gruffly likable even as he barks at friends and foes. Smith works in a love story and an additional side plot, as well, clearly building on the previous novel in the series, “Blood Solutions,” and paving the way for more adventures for Detective Shaw.

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