Monday, July 17, 2023

The Brigade

Before the words “defund the police” became a hot media slogan, author John Shirley experimented with the idea for his hard-hitting crime-fiction novel The Brigade. Those of you unfamiliar with Shirley may remember that we have reviewed his installments of the post-apocalyptic series Traveler, written under the pseudonym D.B. Drumm, and his vigilante series The Specialist, written under the name John Cutter. The Brigade was Shirley's fifth career novel, originally published in 1981 by Avon and a year later in the UK by Sphere. It exists now in ebook format.

The sleepy fictional town of Salton, Oregon, population of 42,000, lies about 40 miles east of the scenic coast. The town's chief industry is paper milling. But, the two characteristics that make this town notable is its militant “people's police” called The Brigade and an active serial killer dubbed The Saturday Night Killer. How these two defining elements interact with each other in an ultraconservative town is the main focus of Shirley's propulsive crime novel.

The town voted to defund the police, dismantle the force, and save tax dollars by introducing a volunteer group of citizens, The Brigade. The town's former police constable and mayor lead this brigade of armed citizens, but as time goes on, the group begins a radical departure from upstanding people for the people to a militant mob that seeks a police state type of tyranny for the town. Hitchhikers are brutalized, petty thieves are executed, and citizens are required to carry “hall passes” that allow them freedom on the town's streets and sidewalks. Most of this is done discreetly, in a way that doesn't seem so oppressive on the surface. 

A young guy named Tony, a janitor, and his girlfriend Sonja, stumble upon a plot formed by The Brigade to quiet the serial murders committed by this Saturday Night Killer. The murderer, responsible for 13 savage slaughters, kills an outside reporter. To cover up the death, The Brigade throw the reporter over an embankment to disguise the fact that she was knifed by the serial killer. They don't want news agencies and outsiders to question The Brigade's efficiency to keep the town safe. But, without detectives who can stop the serial killer? Tony and Sonja realize that the killer is actually a member of The Brigade.

John Shirley's 258-page paperback is quite good, but is loose around the edges due to poor editing. Tony's side-story of finding a friend becomes too convoluted for its own good, and there are some messy plot points that are presented both in the present and the past. There is also an irrelevant side-story about a guy trapped in a well. I found myself skipping some of this, but overall the story was superb and tackled a relevantly hot topic that emerged just a few years ago. How does a small town function without police? Under Shirley's watch...not very good. 

If you love crime-fiction laced with savage deaths, graphic sex, and a unique political position, then The Brigade is a must. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.


  1. Quite prescient of Mr Shirley to set the novel in Oregon, before BLM became a major movement. I'm impressed that he also contributed to Blue Oyster Cult's great body of work. I'm definitely purchasing this one!

  2. Great premise! If I understand it correctly, it's a twist on the defund the police in that the move comes from the right.