During his life, Lou Cameron (1924-2010) was one of the most reliably solid authors in the men’s adventure, crime, war, and western genres. His 1977 police fiction paperback “Code Seven” has a cover blurb that promises the book to be “All the crunching excitement of Walking Tall” while the back cover guarantees “a nerve-sizzling suspense novel.” As a fan of Cameron’s writing, crunching excitement, and sizzling nerves, I was excited to dive into this one.
Sean Costello is the new chief of police in the fictional city of Flamingo Beach, Florida, a town of about three square miles. His new job is a chance at redemption for the chief who was recently fired from his police gig in New Jersey - ostensibly due to budget cuts. He’s an honest cop singularly dedicated to keeping his little town safe despite a lack of resources or much staff.
In police parlance, “Code Seven” is a meal break, which is an odd choice for a title. In the paperback, Cameron’s character claims it means “off duty” which, I suppose, is close enough for government work. The relevance of title has something to do with the romance that develops between Costello and a wealthy widow in his new hometown. This story-line seemed rushed and not entirely credible, but that wasn’t the centerpiece of the paperback, anyway. The point is that Costello is so busy putting out small fires that he’s never truly off duty.
For the majority of the book, Costello deals with the normal, everyday headaches, threats, and small mysteries of the job: drunks, a floater, a mouthy runaway, a suicide attempt, a stalker case, etc. The police procedural aspects of the novel seemed realistic enough to me, so either Cameron did some homework or he’s good at faking it. However, I kept hoping that the many disjointed plot threads would eventually form a linear story for the reader to enjoy or a mystery for Costello to solve.
Unfortunately, a main plot never really comes together. Some of the smaller mysteries presented as subplots are solved, and some tie into each other. However, it was an odd novel filled with nothing but subplots - almost as if Cameron wanted to write several different short stories about this interesting cop in a small, coastal town. The author apparently shuffled these stories into one disjointed book rather than selling them individually to the mystery digest magazines? Just a theory.
Cameron’s writing is predictably good, but an odd editorial decision left the book without chapter breaks. There are white-spaces representing scene changes throughout the paperback, but all 219 pages are basically one long chapter. As a reader, this was more irritating than I anticipated it would be.
Despite the myriad of problems with the book, it never failed to hold my attention since many of the subplots were rather interesting. I just wish Cameron’s editors sent him back to the typewriter for a few more rounds of drafts and forced him to develop a compelling main plot. “Code Seven” could have been a great cop novel instead of the mess he left behind.
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