Iím a big fan of the original CSI show (the one set in Las Vegas), but I hadnít yet read any of the tie-in novels for that series. When I had the opportunity to snap up In Extremis, the latest one written by Ken Goddard, I leaped at the chance. Novels can expand so much more upon the characters and situations than a 43-minute television episode can, so I wanted to see how it was handled. Sadly, while the main villain is exceptionally well-done, the main characters pretty much go through the motions in paint-by-number fashion, showcasing some of their typical mannerisms without really making us care that much.
A contract killer has a hit going down in a nature preserve outside of Las Vegas, which unfortunately is interrupted by a DEA drug sting operation. The killer, Viktor Mialkovsky, expertly does his job anyway, but his evacuation of the scene is prevented by the Las Vegas police department showing up at the sting site, where the assembled agents end up firing at a truck that appears to be trying to run them down. As the CSI team tries to reassemble the shooting scene to discover whether it was justified or not, another body appearing further up the mountain may bring the team too close to Viktorís location. A game of cat and mouse develops, pitting CSI head Gil Grissom against an expert killer who just may be familiar with him.
Goddard spends a lot of time during In Extremis detailing the CSI procedures of recreating the scene, one that looks seriously confusing with the multiple gunshots from at least six different people. We also see extreme detail in other aspects of what our heroes do - going over the truck with a fine-tooth comb, detailing the autopsy work, things like that. Some of the gadgets used by Nick and Warrick are fascinating, and I loved the explanation. You can tell that Goddard has some background in real CSI work.
Unfortunately, this type of thing doesnít always work in novel form. Sometimes Goddard gets too technical, drastically affecting the pace of the novel. What would normally be done in a montage of scenes watching the CSIs work, the novel spends two pages on. This drags the book to a halt at times, a problem the television series doesnít have because the montage would be over in about 30 seconds. Goddardís explanations are never confusing, though, which is a big plus.
One area of In Extremis that Goddard nails is the villain. Mialkovsky is intelligent and good at what he does. If heís going to be beaten, itís going to be by the hard work and skill of Grissom and his team combined with a little luck. This luck would include the rainstorm that comes up and hampers not just the CSI reconstruction but also Mialkovskyís ability to leave the scene. We not only get a good account of Mialkovskyís background, but many scenes are from his viewpoint, so we know what heís thinking. The ending is great for this too. The other antagonists, the agents at the shooting, arenít quite as good, mainly serving as foils and investigative subjects for our heroes.
On the other hand, the regular CSI characters suffer in comparison. I understand (being a Star Trek novel fan) that tie-in books to series that are still on the air canít really introduce any new insights or history to any of the regulars. Catherine Willows, for example, canít be shown to have a previously unknown sister, or her daughter canít be killed in one of the novels. The best tie-in writers are still able to make the characters interesting by playing with what we already know. Goddard doesnít do that, though. Instead, we see the same mannerisms we have been shown before. Catherine complains about not having a life, Gil likes his bugs, and Hodges is a kiss-ass. We get one scene where Grissom shows a little affection for Sara (which is also usually the quota for the television series), but nothing truly interesting happens to them. One could say that many of the television episodes have this problem, too, but the series has actors to bring its characters to life. Books donít have that, and In Extremis is the worse for it.
What we do get is an interesting plot, intricately done and something that the series would have trouble showing, if only for the complexity of the CSI work. It all takes place in the span of one night, so the tension is definitely compacted. Cracks occasionally appear in this timeline; sometimes it seems too much is getting done in the few hours of night left, but overall this compression just makes everything come to a boil that much more quickly.
If In Extremis is typical of the CSI line, it wonít make me go out in search of the other books. However, I can definitely say itís worth a read if youíre a fan of the show and you get the chance to pick it up. Iíve heard that other books are more character-based, so perhaps a second novel is in order before I make a final decision. This isnít a bad place to start, though.