Carsten Stroud writes about cops like no one since Joseph Wambaugh. Like Wambaugh, he is as good with blistering nonfiction as he is with suspenseful, hard-edged novels.
His first book, "Close Pursuit" was an Edgar nominee for best nonfiction crime book, and both of his cop novels have won high praise (including this paper) and various awards.
After a great sidestep into military history, "Iron Bravo," Stroud is back covering the combat on America's streets.
In "Deadly Force" he focuses on Luke Zito, a hardened veteran of the U.S. Marshal's elite Fugitive Apprehension Team, the unit made famous in the movie, "The Fugitive."
In fact, reading "Deadly Force" is like seeing "The Fugitive" through the eyes of the Tommy Lee Jones character. This book bristles with sudden violence, hair-raising chases, memorable and dangerous bad guys, and a superb cast of quirky, dedicated tough cops.
The marshals are depicted as rough and ready men who live for the takedown, and who would have made good bandits on the other side of the law.
"Deadly Force" has a powerful story arc that is almost too good to be true. Instead of a mere slice of life for federal marshals (which would be good enough in Stroud's capable hands) we have a story with a beginning, middle and explosive end.
Zito and his team are pursuing a dangerous and slippery felon, Paulo Rona, who raped a marshal and a married cop to whom Zito is a little too close.
Rona is not only physically dangerous, but he also knows how to use the system - particularly the federal maze of police agencies, in which a crook one agency is chasing may actually be on the payroll of another.
Also on Rona's trail is the mysterious "Yellow Man," a highly skilled Nicaraguan hit man with whom Zito has had a run-in before. He never misses, and his weapon of choice is a Special Forces hatchet.
But Zito, a cop from the old school, has more than just the criminals and their lawyers to contend with. He has an increasingly cumbersome federal bureaucracy in his way.
Through Zito's experience, Stroud makes a convincing case against two new trends in federal law enforcement: a system of paid informants who very often make two and three times what the federal agents themselves make and the kind of militarization of agencies in which everybody's got a SWAT team they are eager to use.
Zito blames the first problem for an increase in corruption and a new boldness in federal fugitives and the second for tragic bungles like Waco and Ruby Ridge.
Attorney General Janet Reno's Justice Department is given low marks for pushing each of these trends farther than ever before.
But while "Deadly Force" has important things to say about modern law enforcement, the main attraction here is the storytelling. This is slam-bang entertainment of the highest order.
With "Deadly Force," Carsten Stroud proves he belongs in the elite company of Wambaugh and Robert Daley, America's masters of the cop story, whether writing truth or fiction.