But a title like “Final Justice“ makes me nervous for some reason, perhaps because it evokes slightly coherent memories of cheezy movies starring the likes of Joe Don Baker and most of the ensemble cast of the first “Billy Jack“ opus that I went with high school buddies to see at drive-ins during the big, bad, beloved early 1970‘s, when the point was always (if unspoken) that little watching of the “film“ would occur.
I digress. There has been enough buzz about W.E.B. Griffins eighth novel in his very popular “Badge of Honor“ series to make most of the uninitiated, including this reviewer, sit up and take notice. Hot off the presses this week, this Philadelphia, PA saga of police, politicians, pundits, polemics, press, and pirates and prostitutes, does bear the name “Final Justice: A Badge of Honor Novel.“ The good news is that even if you‘re dubious about that or its genre, this is one tightly wound, and colorfully detailed thriller. Fans of the series- and they are considerable - will no doubt give a resounding “Duh!“ to that assessment.
“Honor Bound,“ “Men at War,“ “Brotherhood of War,“ and “The Cops“ are some of the predecessors in the series, and a few of the now 32 that Griffin has crafted. This one has many of the elements readers have come to expect, such as an increasingly complex plot where several seemingly disparate storylines gradually converge, intimate accountings of behind-the-scenes operations at a big city cop shop, bad guys, one really bad guy, good guys, and at least a few good guys who might be bad guys, or vice versa.
Most importantly, there‘s the glue of the return of Sergeant Matthew Payne, an honorable third generation cop who‘s just been promoted to Homicide, and a number of his nearest and dearest, which includes supporting players from other “Badge of Honor“ books. The really bad guy is a brilliant psychopath who finds time for a cross-country spree of brutal rapes and murders while he deals in expensive, exotic cars, which turns out to be just one of three challenging cases Payne is obsessing over and determined to resolve.
One of the strongest aspects of Griffin‘s writing is in his attention to detail, and his ability to link random subplots together. He plunges the reader headfirst into his world with the opening chapter, where a robbery at a fast food restaurant quickly goes from bad to worse as 911 and then the police are called by the eatery‘s staff:
“It was Sunday night, and at quarter after eleven the Roy Rogers restaurant at South Broad and Snyder Streets in South Philadelphia was just about full.
Amal al Zaid, who was five feet seven inches tall and weighed 145 pounds, and who had spent sixteen of his twenty-one years as Dwayne Alexander Finston before converting to Islam, was mopping a spill from the floor just outside the kitchen door when he glanced at the clock mounted high on the wall near the front entrance to the restaurant... Amal al Zaid had seen two young men enter the restaurant. Both were in their early twenties. One was of average height and build, and the other short and overweight. Both of them stopped, one at a time, just inside the door, and looked around the restaurant, and then at each other, and then nodded...After a moment, Amal al Zaid peered carefully through the small window in the kitchen door. He saw that the short fat guy had taken a seat in the last banquette on the left, with his back to the kitchen wall. And he saw the short fat guy pull whatever he had wrapped in newspaper from his pocket, and lay it on the banquette seat. And then Amal al Zaid saw what it was: a short-barreled revolver.
“Holy s---,“ Zaid said, barely audibly, and turned and looked around the kitchen.
The kitchen supervisor, Maria Manuela Fernandez, a thirty-five-year-old in immaculate kitchen whites, who carried 144 pounds on her five-foot-three frame, was a few steps away, examining the latest serving trays to come out of the dishwasher.
Zaid went to her, touched her arm, and when she turned to him, said, “Manuela, I think we‘re getting stuck up.“
Mrs. Fernandez‘s eyebrows rose.
“There‘s a fat guy with a gun in the last booth,“ Zaid said, pointing at the wall, “and there‘s another guy - they came in together - in the first booth on the right by the front door.“
Mrs. Fernandez walked quickly and looked through the window in the door, then went to a wall-mounted telephone near the door and dialed 911... When Miss Regis answered the call from an excited Latino-sounding lady reporting a robbery in progress at the Roy Rogers at Broad and Snyder, she had known the call was genuine... The door to the kitchen burst open, and the fat guy with the gun came through it. He saw Mrs. Fernandez on the telephone, and when she saw him, she dropped the handset and moved away from the telephone, placing her back against the wall near the telephone.
The fat guy went to the handset dangling from the wall phone, put it to his ear, listened a moment - just long enough to be able to determine with whom Mrs. Fernandez was speaking - then grabbed the coiled expansion cord and ripped it free from the telephone.
Then he looked at Mrs. Fernandez and said, “You f------ b----!“ and raised his revolver to arm‘s length and fired at her. The bullet struck her just below her left ear and exited her skull just above her right ear.“
The race is off from that point on, and Griffin makes this murder Payne‘s first case, adding on the additional slaying of a cop at the scene, just for a bit of extra action insurance. In short order follow Payne‘s other cases, the most frustrating of which is the psychopath, who leaves mocking clues and bizarre pieces of evidence in his wake. If that all weren‘t enough, there are women in Payne‘s life for him to juggle - or contend with - and a pompous star of a line of police movies who has come to town, a turn of events that becomes a bit of comic relief even while it complicates Payne‘s existence more than his actual cases.
Solid characterization, gritty realism, and current dissections of police procedures and politics resound, and in no time, you‘ve knocked this one off. Griffin‘s work feels like the real deal, and completely true blue.