Alan Drew creates a thoughtful mystery with multiple viewpoints in The Recruit. It’s set in 1987 and happens around a small city in Orange County, California. Drew uses a smart approach to his suspenseful story. He’s unafraid to confront the big issues of the day, like refugee realities, white supremacy, Christian nationalism, and how the police interact with the disparate communities they serve. As you can see, the topics are equally relevant today.
The primary character is Detective Benjamin Wade, who returned to Rancho Santa Elena hoping to get away from the tensions in Los Angeles. But as the story develops, he and his girlfriend, medical examiner Natasha Betancourt, work on various cases. At first, everything seems separate, but they begin to see a common thread tying the cases to extremist views. They soon realize that even the idyllic parts of our world have dark, ugly underbellies. Next, they have to find a way to stop them.
Drew also tells part of the story from other viewpoints, even though Ben and Natasha are central. We hear from a new, teenage member of a skinhead gang. And alternately from both father and daughter in a Vietnamese-American family. Although sometimes the variety of voices was overwhelming, ultimately Drew ties everything together into a cohesive whole.
The Recruit is intense and never shies away from the nastiness of racism. At times the story feels ponderously heavy, but that’s more because of the topic than the writing. Drew employs considerable detail in explaining both the crimes and the criminal mindset behind this story. That gets tough to read, especially when real-life news parallels the fictional plot. Still, I give Drew credit for approaching this story with eyes wide open instead of whitewashing the grimiest behaviors.
Ben and Natasha are likable and realistically flawed characters. Natasha’s got a good heart and an even sharper mind. And Ben is working hard to wake up to his own faults. If Drew wrote another book about these two, it would be on my reading list.
At just over 400 pages, I still felt like Drew rushed the book’s ending. The balance between set-up, main story action, and the resolution was heavy up front compared to the final section. However, it’s ultimately satisfying if a bit forced.
I recommend The Recruit if you appreciate police procedurals set before the age of cell phones. Just plan to steel yourself for darkness, knowing that the main characters are worth cheering on towards the conclusion.
Pair with something nonfiction about the topics Drew discusses. Options include: The Power Worshippers by Katherine Stewart or Everything You Love Will Burn by Vegas Tenhold.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review. The Recruit debuts June 14, 2022.