Four Walls, tie-in veteran Keith R.A. DeCandido’s sole CSI outing to date, is a third season CSI: NY novel. In it Mac Taylor and his crime lab team have to deal with two different cases: While Stella Bonasera and Lindsay Monroe investigate the murder of a young woman in an Italian bakery, Mac, Denny Messer, Sheldon Hawkins and Don Flack head to a prison in New Jersey, where two inmates have died, one of them a former cop. While one of the deaths is a slam dunk murder case, with a confession and matching evidence, both the death in the bakery and the death of the former cop aren’t as clear.
First of all the most important thing for every murder mystery: both cases are engaging and interesting. The only minor flaw for me was that the revelation in the bakery murder came a bit out of the blue. Maybe I’ve missed something, but the eventual murderer seems to just pop up shortly before the end. That’s a bit annoying, but in the end it’s easily outweighed by the fact that Keith R.A. DeCandido hasn’t just written a murder mystery set in the Bronx, he brings that little bakery truly to life on the pages of Four Walls. The same is true for the correction facility – while I can’t really know how authentic the representation really is, it just feels authentic. One of the two cases in the prison isn’t really much of a case, since it’s solved really fast, but it serves a purpose: it provides some background to the prison setting and really adds to the authentic feel I mentioned. And while the other prison case has a surprise twist at the end, this time it wasn’t totally out of the blue, there are hints to be found in the novel.
I have to admit that after the first two seasons or so, I stopped watching CSI: NY regularly, and only watch the odd episode now and then. There are two somewhat related reasons for that: firstly, I just didn’t have the feeling I would miss anything important if I sat out for an episode or two, which is a direct effect of the second reason – in my opinion there just wasn’t enough character- and team-building in the episodes. DeCandido certainly makes up for that in this novel; the characters have never felt so much like a team to me as in Four Walls. He also gives the characters more depth by actually showing what a toll their line of work and their past has on their life, be it Flack’s dealing with the aftereffects of his wounding by a bomb, Mac’s uneasiness with flying over Ground Zero where he lost the love of his life, or any of the other little bits he adds to the novel for almost every character. Even the “red herring suspect” in the bakery murder isn’t just a means to further the plot, he’s a real human with a background and even gets some kind of closure in the novel, whereas normally such characters often just disappear when they have “done their job”.
Overall an engaging book, which is more than just a mere whodunnit murder mystery. While this is surely the main characteristic of the book, it’s also a great piece of character study and an interesting look into New York from a real New Yorker.
Four Walls (by Keith R.A. DeCandido) was released by Pocket Star in April 2008.