The Pittsburgh Homicide Division, led by Commander Richard Christie, returns in "A Measure of Blood," Kathleen George's latest police procedural.
A young single mother is murdered by a man from her past, who believes fervently that the woman's young son, Matt, is also his own. The well-oiled Homicide team hits the ground running to investigate, with members of the team contributing their individual talents to the search for the suspect, Nadal Brown.
Christie's detectives are smart and refreshingly competent, without a glory hound in the bunch. "A Measure of Blood" demonstrates that the manufactured intra-departmental conflict prevalent in most crime fiction isn't necessary to provide drama or suspense when the plot is compelling and the characters well drawn.
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While the police detectives and Christie's wife and friends are recurring characters, it's possible for first-time readers to know them well, based on background information, economically dispensed. The rest of the supporting characters are introduced with finely tuned descriptions that don't disrupt the forward momentum of the story.
As the search for the killer proceeds, the decision regarding Matt's foster care placement also occupies Christie, whose interference in the Child Services system is done with all good intentions. But Christie's decision regarding the child's best interests not only places friends in a position of emotional vulnerability, it places the child in the setting (the University of Pittsburgh) where the murderer, obsessed with "his" child, also circulates.
In addition to detailing the swiftly moving investigation, Ms. George subtly explores the definitions of family and fatherhood. While the murderer's interest in Matt is strictly a result of his belief in blood ties, the foster father (and mother) accept Matt as their own immediately, where no blood ties exist. Unaware of Matt's existence until the murder, the biological father also feels the strong call of blood and DNA and is stunned by the possibilities inherent in a life that exists because of him.
Only once did the story grind to a halt and actually cause me to close the book. The mechanism by which the killer discovers the whereabouts of his "son" struck me as facile and farfetched. It seems to me that the location of a child who was in the apartment at the time of his mother's murder, with the murderer on the loose, would not be readily supplied by a clueless intern answering the phone at Child Services to an unknown person who called looking for him. If this is plausible, I don't want to know.
My affection for the Homicide Division pulled me back in. An ancillary plot line regarding the staging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Pitt drew parallels between the skills and intuition involved in theater production and good police work.
This latest installment in the Pittsburgh Homicide Division series also sets the table for upcoming changes for the cast of characters. For Christie, who is dealing with some father issues of his own, a change in his wife Marina's ambitions will need to be dealt with. The relationship between Detectives Colleen Greer and John Potocki progresses, despite an underlying connection between Greer and Commander Christie.
"A Measure of Blood" is an enjoyable police ride-along, with plenty of hometown flavor and characters worthy of investment.
Kathleen Guzzi is a writer living in Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org).