“A Steep Price” by Robert Dugoni perfectly balances the characters’ professional and personal lives. This sixth book in the series continues with Seattle Violent Crimes homicide Det. Tracy Crosswhite and her fellow A-Team colleagues. Although the two cases to solve are not related, Dugoni is able to show how a real precinct works.
The first crime has Vic Fazzio (Faz) and his partner investigating the murder of a community activist who stood up to the realities of drug dealing, sex escorts and gangs. Faz’s determination to nail the obvious suspect leads him to a South Park housing project. He searches for evidence against the menacing Cartel Surano, which is led by Little Jimmy. They are a powerful local gang, dealing in drugs and terrorizing the local community, ensuring that they do not cooperate with the police. Because his partner injured his back, Vic is now paired with the newbie, Andrea Gonzalez. Complicating everything is the shooting of the key witness. His and Gonzalez’s account do not mesh, and it appears she is trying to frame him over the fatal shot.
The other crime has Tracy Crosswhite helping on a missing person’s case. Besides the investigation, Dugoni explores many social issues including “sugar dating,” and the different cultural expectations of East Indian women versus the ramifications in contemporary society.
After the body turns up in an abandoned well, Tracy wonders if anyone in the victim’s estranged family is responsible. Kavita Mukherjee balked at an arranged marriage and had plans to attend medical school, but her dreams have now been cut short. She was resolute to make it on her own and raised money by having a “sugar daddy” on the side. With people of interest mounting up, Tracy is determined to find Kavita’s killer.
“I got into a UBER with a young guy in the car. We got to talking, and he told me he had just been married,” Dugoni said. “I asked if he had dated for a long time and the response, ‘No, it was an arranged marriage.’ He was Eastern Indian and told me he met her twice before the marriage. His parents were the product of an arranged marriage and have been together for 30 years. I was told by him arranged marriages have a lot less divorces. As he was talking I took notes in my head and then started the research.”
To help solve the crime Tracy uses a technological angle. Cell phones play an important role and they almost appear to be a secondary character. The important keys include the phone’s location history, the Find My iPhone app that can be shared between phones and text messages with parental safeguards. It is a subtle warning of how technology contributes to less privacy for the individual.
Another issue explored is maternity leave. Tracy is pregnant and worries that a new hire, Andrea Gonzalez, is being groomed to take her place. A book quote explains her thinking, “It would be much more difficult for her to argue discrimination if Nolasco (her Captain) replaced her with another woman-especially a minority woman.”
“I wrote Tracy as a tough cookie,” Dugoni said. “When on the job she is all business. Her problem is she must deal with a sexist pig, Capt. Johnny Nolasco. Her concern is that he brought in a Hispanic woman, Andrea Gonzalez. If a team has an urgent need they can bring in somebody. She can have her job back, but not necessarily with the A-Team. She will have to be put back in a position of a detective on a violent crimes team. Yet, she can become the fifth wheel or go to another team. It will be difficult for her to argue she was demoted because of sexism. I think in other circumstances she and Gonzalez would probably have been closed instead of clashing as they are now.”
The dedication of the book, “To all the women who have suffered from breast cancer and have fought the good fight. Hopefully, someday, research will break through and we finally will have a cure.”
In this story, a few of the characters are suffering from breast cancer, Vera included. “I wrote those scenes because some in my family have it. My mother is a breast-cancer survivor of twenty-five years. She went through it when I was younger. I have a sister-in-law who is currently going through this. We lost my cousin’s wife from breast cancer. It really impacts families. It really impacted me. It is very difficult.”
These fast-moving plotlines intertwined with some social issues creates a gripping story. Dugoni’s ability to tell a riveting action-packed plot while exploring the topics of arranged marriages, returning to work after a pregnancy, a cancer diagnosis, sex escorts, and drug dealers within a community, makes for a riveting suspense novel.