Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Review: Fringe Benefits by F.M. Meredith

A bored, self-centered housewife, a cop who plans the perfect murder, a teenage son who can't handle life at home, a violent rapist who only attacks on Wednesdays, and a series of odd break-ins, come together for an engaging police procedural in Fringe Benefits by F.M. Meredith.

Officer Cal Sylvester has been known to step out on his wife, but he gets more than he bargains for when he hooks up with the greedy wife of a fellow officer. Darcy Butler, the wife of Sylvester's rookie partner, Gordon, is a looker, but his plan to make their affair a more permanent relationship is squashed when Darcy refuses to marry someone who makes as little money as a cop. So Sylvester plans the perfect murder to get his hands on his wife's insurance money.

Sixteen-year-old Adler "Patch" Costello has always been a screw up. Unlike his angelic sister, Jill, he's been a thorn in his parents' side since the day he was born. Unable to deal with his parents' constant criticism, Patch takes to the streets, unaware he's about to become a pawn in a dangerous chessboard that leads to a future he can't conceive.

Members of the Rocky Bluff P.D. work hard to keep the streets of the growing beach community clean, investigating odd break-ins, arresting drunk drivers, and searching for a knife-wielding rapist who only attacks on Wednesday; not knowing that one of their own is operating on the edge of the law.

In the third book of the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, my favorite character is introduced, Gordon Butler. A rookie cop, who if he didn't have bad luck would have no luck at all, is partnered up with Cal Sylvester, a veteran who isn't above taking advantage of the fringe benefits of being a cop.

Gordon is a cop eager to do his best, but the poor guy is the butt of most jokes. His efforts to be a good cop despite his many mishaps, is what endeared him to me in later books in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series. What happened with Darcy had been mentioned in future installments, but it was good to finally know the entire story behind how Gordon found himself single again.

Fringe Benefits definitely has an edge to it. You've got a cop who plans to off his wife to collect the insurance money, a teenager whose home life is so bad that he would rather live on the streets than deal with his parents, and the rising crime rate that growth seems to bring.

Abel Navarro, who was more of a supplementary character in earlier books, also gets some time in the limelight. He's frustrated because he keeps arresting drunk drivers, but the D.A. doesn't even bring the cases to court. Navarro gets his own lesson in fringe benefits when he arrests a fire chief from a nearby community for drinking and driving, but discovers he shouldn't have wasted his time. Abel's wife, Maria, is only mildly supportive, and hopes that her husband won't make too many waves that could interfere with his chances for a future promotion.

As with previous and future installments in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, there is a perfect mix of police work and how being involved in law enforcement impacts the family.

I've always been more of a mystery type of person, where the identity of the actual perpetrator is unknown until the very end, so it surprises me how much I've enjoyed reading the books in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, where the reader typically, though not always, knows who committed the crime and journeys along with the detectives as they uncover the clues that lead to an arrest.

It took me a little over a day to finish Fringe Benefits, and if I didn't have a TBR pile that rivaled the Empire State Building, I would reread the next three books in the series.

Fringe Benefits is available through the author's website and also comes in a Kindle edition.

Here is a list of the Rocky Bluff P.D. books in order:

Final Respects
Bad Tidings
Fringe Benefits
Smell of Death
No Sanctuary
An Axe to Grind

Once you read one book in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series you're going to want to own them all. Meredith creates characters you can't help but want to know more about.

This post first appeared at The Book Connection.

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