Two members of the Shea City police force must find a rampaging killer armed with a deadly weapon in Selina Rosen's Strange Robby , a near-future science fiction novel about crime, cover-ups, and friendship. The twist? Agents Spider Webb and Tommy Chan are more than happy to let the killer run free since he's dishing out vigilante justice to the wicked of Shea City.
Webb and Chan's cover-up is not easy, however, as two flavors of federal spooks are keenly interested in the case: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Special Weapons Task Force (SWTF). There is also hot lesbian love as DA Carrie Long throws her better instincts aside to pursue the edgy, dangerous Spider Webb.
The just-around-the-corner world Selina Rosen has built in Shea City contains aspects that make it tragically real. Technology doesn't really help that much. Cops find themselves spied on by their superiors, and what information- gathering-equipment the good guys have is easily thwarted by other off-the-shelf technology, old boy networks are still going strong, the justice system still doesn't work, the Middle East is nothing but trouble, and the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing. Well, the SWTF knows, but it doesn't share.
But the SWTF doesn't have much choice. Turns out that Webb is a bit of a weapon herself—an empath. Is Strange Robby yet another book about cops with special powers? Yes, it is. And it's a good one. How good? Shades of Lance Henrikson's Frank Black from Millennium good.
The very skills that make Webb such a great detective ensure she leads a life of bitter alienation. Being able to understand what people feel has its disadvantages. We lie all the time. Normal people learn how to hide their dislike and distrust of strangers, but Webb sees right through that and can tell how weirded out people are by her. Hers is a lonely life, punctuated by sudden violence, empty affairs, and psychological demons the likes of which you and I are lucky not to know! In fact, her only two good relationships are with in-the-trenches partner Chan, and a man in a coma. Oh, and being a gay ex-marine who rarely thinks before she acts and is too stubborn to back down (much less change the name "Spider Webb") doesn't help Webb's situation that much, either.
That's the hand she's dealt; that's the hand she plays. The romance angles, be they between Webb and Carrie Long, or Tommy Chan and his wife Laura, are some of the best of the book, and make a nice break from the shadowy goings-on, while simultaneously upping the stakes by showing what Webb and Chan stand to lose should they fail to keep a step ahead of the game.
Selina Rosen does an outstanding job of conveying the claustrophobic confines of maintaining a cover-up while investigating a cover-up. She handles secondary characters with respect as well, moving them up in priority and forcing the reader to invest in these most vulnerable characters. Tommy Chan is especially well done. As long-suffering friend of Spider Webb, he's seen her come through "in the shit" as the kids say, and they've formed bonds. But then, he's not an empath. He's just a regular second-generation Asian-American struggling with his interracial marriage and putting himself out there on the edge against the Man, his spooks, and things much worse than empaths. Robby Strange, low-income handyman and terrible swift sword of justice, also stands out. Take your brooding anti-hero, make him a bit on the slow side, then give him a lot of familial responsibility and you've got Robby Strange. He handles it all well, considering.
In many ways I was reminded of M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable in its examination of the burdens of having any kind of special power. Especially something like knowing who the bad guys are and having to decide what to do now.
Strange Robby suffers somewhat from the rapid-fire pace and the tight packing needed to make police thrillers, romances, and science fiction mutant hunts viable. There are moments of point-of-view shifts that can be disjointing, but mostly things move the story along.
One of the things about realistic characters is that, like real people, they are infuriatingly self-centered at times, and often their own worst enemies. This makes for some very tense reading at times, as the reader is forced to wonder who will win—the villains, the protagonist, or the protagonist's self-destructive traits.
And that's a nice problem for a reader to have.