Rating: 4 out of 5
Keith R.A. DeCandido’s The Case of the Claw is book number one in his SuperCity Police Department (SCPD) series. In this world super heroes are real, but we get to see things primarily from the point of view of the police officers and detectives who have to work around them. It’s all well and good that the Superior Six or the Terrific Trio go after the bad guys, but somehow they’re never around to sign witness statements or give testimony, and there’s always the collateral damage to worry about. The police just discovered that a mutated villain called the Claw has returned to the city, and is killing people once again. They have no idea what his real identity is, and his DNA doesn’t match anything in the system. The Terrific Trio are off-planet currently, and the Superior Six insist that they’ll take care of the problem–yet they seem to be doing anything but. We get to see a week in the life of the homicide detectives of SuperCity as they try to hunt down the Claw, deal with the everyday fights that break out, appeal to the Six for cooperation, and face an alien invasion.
It’s great to get to see things from the police viewpoint in this super hero story. The heroes aren’t universally good or bad. They often make the officers’ and detectives’ lives harder, for example by bringing in criminals without actual evidence to hold them on. Or by causing collateral deaths and damage during their fights against villains such as the Brute Squad. While there’s some whimsy here and there, this story is a bit darker than some super hero fare (though not as dark as some, either).
I enjoyed the characters, although there were enough named police that I had trouble keeping them all straight after a while. Mac is kind of the stereotypical near-retirement grump with a chip on his shoulder, partnered with the stereotypical too-eager rookie with a chip on her shoulder. Luckily their relationship evolves beyond that, giving them some depth over the course of the story. The other characters are similar in their willingness to grow. I particularly love the police captain, Javier Garcia, who still gets phone calls from his mother constantly while he’s working.
The pacing is excellent, with the police commissioner and mayor raining crap down on Garcia’s head with every day that goes by without the Claw having been apprehended. People continue to die, and various calamities pull the police in all different directions. There’s a hostage situation, a Pulitzer-winning gruff journalist, heroes with names like “Spectacular Man” and “The Bruiser,” and nifty pieces of technology passed along by Ms. Terrific. It’s satisfying as both a mystery and a super hero story!