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Book review: 'Kind of Blue' by Miles Corwin

Special to the Los Angeles Times

Kind of Blue

A Novel

Miles Corwin

Oceanview Publishing: 324 pp., $25.95

In previous books such as "The Killing Season" and "Homicide Special," Miles Corwin explored the inner workings of the Los Angeles Police Department. As a crime reporter for the L.A. Times, he was given rare and extensive access, and he provided fascinating insights into the lives of detectives.

The now-former reporter has used his experiences to fashion a fictionalized (yet realistic) portrait of the LAPD in "Kind of Blue," a novel that shows us the many ways that cops fill the roles of both good guys and villains.

After a retired police officer is murdered, Ash Levine — a divorced Jewish detective and Israel Defense Forces vet — is lured back to the department he quit a year ago. It's a high-profile case, and as his boss, Lt. Duffy, says, Ash is the right choice because he "doesn't think like a normal person. He sees things other guys miss."

Ash left the force after a woman named Latisha Patton, his witness in a murder case, was killed. He blamed himself, and his burden of guilt was made worse by having been secretly involved with her romantically. Ash is understandably reluctant to return to the job that's caused him such anguish, until he comes up with a plan: He'll track down the murderer of ex-cop Pete Relovich and on the side find Latisha's killer as well.

Corwin ties up loose narrative ends before undoing them again. Within minutes of visiting the Relovich crime scene, Ash determines what other officers have missed — that the cop knew his killer — but he has no idea initially how much the LAPD itself figures into the crime, nor how complex the motive. When he learns of the death of Relovich's former partner, made to look like a suicide, Ash knows he's stumbled onto something far more scandalous and wide-reaching. He's a compelling protagonist, introspective and obsessive.

"Kind of Blue," named for the seminal Miles Davis album that Ash loves, avoids the overheated prose so often found in crime fiction. Corwin is a minimalist, yet his descriptions are precise: Blood spatter at a crime scene looks like "a miniature pointillist portrait," and the Los Angeles River is "a thin stream of brackish water purling down the graffiti-scarred cement banks."

Nor does Corwin resort to scenes of cheap, grisly violence in the name of so-called authenticity. His concerns are psychological — revealing how criminals think, how cops think and how criminals think when they happen to be corrupt cops. And "Kind of Blue" is genuinely suspenseful: Although there's no question that Ash will solve the crime that haunts him (and the one he's been hired to solve), how he gets there is far from predictable.

At the conclusion of this satisfying novel, a weary Ash announces that he's going surfing. One can only hope that eventually he'll be tempted to hang up his board and take on another case.

Ciuraru is a critic and the editor of poetry anthologies, including, most recently, "Poems About Horses."

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