The fourth novel in Frank Zafiro’s “River City” crime series takes us back 13 years in a thinly disguised Spokane. A Russian mob syndicate led by Sergey Markov is making inroads across the city by outwitting and outgunning the more ragtag black, Hispanic and white supremacist gangs.
But the otherwise solid Russian front is being undermined by Valeriy Romanov, a cold and cunning strategist who is planning to usurp Sergey; and by Oleg, a traitor-turned-FBI informant.
The Russians also have a tough adversary in the River City police department. If only certain members could set aside egos and emotions long enough to listen to their more diligent colleagues, they’d have this crime ring busted in no time. Unfortunately for them, many characters still lick the wounds they accumulated in the previous three novels.
From time to time, the book strains under the weight of cliché and romanticism. The police — described as “largely incorruptible [and] idealistic” — are good despite their myriad shortcomings, whereas criminals and the media — such as the local newspaper that “seemed to delight in hammering the cops at every opportunity” — have hearts of unfathomable darkness.
There are unimaginative stock characters, too. The buddy cops. The hard-bitten Vietnam vet who always delivers a verbal smackdown. The effete and incompetent bookworm who returns on a mission to show up the locals (yes, he inevitably fails). A handful of barely fleshed-out ethnic stereotypes.
But while Zafiro is far from impartial (by day, he is Captain Frank Scalise of the Spokane Police Department), he doesn’t always let the good guys (and, importantly, gals) win. His cops find themselves in some bleak situations — many of their own creation. And he’s more unsentimental than not when it’s their turn to suffer the losses we expect for the criminals.
Above all, the crime genre prides itself on pacing, and this is where Zafiro delivers. He knows when a bit of slack only serves to heighten the tension; and the romance, brutality, scheming, arguments, heart-to-hearts, jovial banter, and, of course, death are dished out in just the right amounts in the right places. And Every Man Has to Die is a one-sitting read for all the right reasons.