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Book Review: Snake Eyes by Max Allan Collins

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I've been a fan of the television show CSI, in all its incarnations, since the beginning. My preference is for the Vegas unit, though I love the color of Miami.

I've also been a lifelong fan of Max Allan Collins' work. He recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the mystery field at the 2006 BoucherCon, an annual gathering of mystery writers, publishers, and fans. He’s written several novels about Nathan Heller (True Detective etc), as well as novels about Mallory and a hitman named Quarry, and scads of movie novelizations and tie-in novels (books based on licensed products).

Those two passions meet in the CSI tie-in novels published by Pocket Books, and Snake Eyes is Collins' eighth novel in the series. He usually writes them with Matthew V. Clemens, though Clemens' name isn't on the books. They have a collaborative anthology, My Lolita Complex, coming out in November that showcases several short stories they’ve jointly written.

In Snake Eyes, violence breaks out between two rival motorcycle gangs in Boot Hill, Nevada. One of the gang leaders and a 20-year-old dealer are shot dead during the confusion. Knowing that his department is outmatched and that he'd better come up with some answers, Boot Hill Police Chief Jorge Lopez calls out for help. Gil Grissom, Catherine Willows, Nick Stokes, and Sara Sidle answer that call.

The scene is filled with complications at the beginning, and things don't get any simpler. The motorcycle gangs are camped outside the town like barbarians at the gate, and both sides are demanding answers for the murders. The gang leader’s body – with the incriminating bullet lodged in it – disappears from the morgue.

In the meantime, Warrick Brown and Greg Sanders are holding down the fort in Vegas. They get besieged with short-lived cases in a series of whirlwind murders that become The Night That Wouldn't End.

I especially enjoyed the plot twists and turns the book took, and the fact that it was very much like the Western movies that Grissom kept alluding to in his conversations with Lopez. Max Allan Collins and Matthew V. Clemens are good, solid and dependable writers, and that really shows in this novel.

The best compliment you can give to a tie-in novel is that it reads entirely like an episode of the parent show that was never aired. It takes real skill to step inside someone else’s world, temporarily claim it as your own, and leave a lasting impression about something without changing anything.

Snake Eyes is a great read for fans of the show, but it’s also a nifty little murder mystery that mystery fans who haven’t seen the show would enjoy as well. And it’s just short enough to be read in a couple of sittings, a claim most books these days can’t make.

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