Meet Detective Katie Callahan and her partner, Donald Dombrowski. She’s got something of a short fuse but makes all the right intellectual connections: he’s a solidly dependable investigator. Neither has much of a rewarding private life but they’re both dedicated to the job – which is just as well, because this mystery will test their commitment to its ultimate limits.
Dire Covenants is an accomplished debut novel from a law enforcement professional, crammed with authentic and accurate procedural details within a carefully constructed plot. The title initially suggested to me that it would be an urban fantasy / supernatural romp – my mistake! The ‘covenants’ are the type you find in contract law, specifically the ones which affect homeowners on well-kept residential estates. It seems that the consequences for not mowing the lawn or keeping gutters clean can be pretty extreme…
The mystery starts with what looks like a suicide. It ends up involving shady real estate scams, illicit affairs, dishonest witnesses, multiple law enforcement agencies, mobile drug labs, money laundering, kidnapping, extortion and murder. As the detectives get closer to the truth, so the threat level rises. Pretty soon they’re operating outside the lines at considerable personal risk – but a clock is ticking. Can they nail the culprits before another young woman is killed?
If you enjoy CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, NCIS, or Law and Order then Dire Covenants should certainly satisfy your criminal cravings. It’s a comprehensive and credible account of a convoluted enquiry, where the clues are satisfyingly scattered throughout the plot. Most of the witnesses have something to hide – even if they’re not directly involved with a series of potentially suspicious deaths – and Callahan’s boiling frustration when she finds she’s been misled (more than once) rings all too true.
As Dombrowski and Callahan pull yet another double shift and start to join the deadly dots of the puzzle, so the atmosphere is enhanced by an unsettling undercurrent of mistrust. It becomes obvious that confidential investigative information is being leaked to their opponents. Have they been betrayed? Can they trust the other agents who’ve taken such an interest in this case?
No new author produces a perfect novel first time out of the gate, and there are moments where you can tell that Dire Covenants is an early work. The dialogue feels formal, almost clunky at times, without the easy familiarity which would flow between partners. Verbal profanity is almost entirely absent: at the most extreme someone might come out with a ‘goshdarnit’ which just didn’t ring true (although I appreciate this was probably done to safeguard the reader’s sensibilities).
Likewise, there were rather too many smirks, sneers, remonstrations and interjections for my tastes. Describing speech is always tricky; ‘said’ and ‘asked’ usually cover most bases. Writers often use other verbs to add some ‘style’, but usually they just distract from the story (and here’s a really good explanation on that very subject).
Overall, however, Dire Covenants is written in straightforward prose which is easy to follow, and which makes a complex plot accessible and absorbing. The story’s true strengths lie in its attention to detail, the engaging characters, and the masterful plot. What starts with a seemingly trivial breach of local property protocols eventually sprawls to encompass an international criminal conspiracy, with entertaining sidelines of secret liaisons and personal concerns along the way. It was engrossing and entertaining: a substantial read which promises much for subsequent instalments.
I hope MD Ironz comes back to these characters – it’d be good to hook up with Callaghan and Dumbrowski again.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Dire Covenants by MD Ironz is available as an ebook
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