Record Scratch by J.J. Hensley

Book review of “Record Scratch” by JJ Hensley. Published by Down & Out Books in October 2018.

After being more than delightfully surprised by “Bolt Action Remedy”, I was looking forward to reading “Record Scratch”, Hensley’s second Trevor Galloway book. And I came back from this endeavor equally pleased. If I was able to write a good quip, I might try something like, “Not since the Brill Building’s heyday, has someone written hit like this!” But, alas, I’m not.

Storytime. At Bouchercon, I stopped by a policing panel hoping for some insights into one of the problems in crime fiction and mysteries: unrealistic police procedurals. From cops tasting drugs on the scene to detectives warrantlessly entering a home, these types of egregious mistakes take me right out of the story and, well, hate on the book and the author. Imagine my dismay when writers said either, “I don’t know about policing, I make it all up” or “I don’t know about policing, I just read other fictional police procedurals”. Yup, so I got up and walked out of there.*

This is NOT a problem with a Hensley book. Hensley gets it right or seems to get it right enough for this mystery reader. Women in heels are not chasing suspects and good guys try opening the door before kicking it in. Hensley does two other things even better: he can tell a good story and he can write well. 

“Record Scratch” takes place a few months or so after the ending of “Bolt Action Remedy”. Galloway is hired by a woman to look into the death of her brother, a famous rock star, and thereby also retrieving a missing a one-off vinyl edition of his latest record. And with that, “Record Scratch” is off and running.

Galloway suffers from PTSD and has hallucinations caused by the PTSD. Since Hensley got the policing so right, as a reader, I’ll accept that Hensley has gotten the psychological makeup of this character right. “Record Scratch” is quite a bit more violent than “Bolt Action Remedy” and even when Hensley goes full Tarantino, I’m still there enjoying every word.

One of the things you see in badly written mysteries is the repetitive beat at the end of a chapter that hooks you into reading the next chapter. Hensley has nothing to do with that. But when he decides to end a chapter with a bang, he does it such that you have to put the book down and pause to collect yourself. Hensley writes in a quick literate style that makes these books fast and entertaining reads.

I  don’t think it’s necessary to read “Bolt Action Remedy” before reading “Record Scratch”, the reveals from the previous novel seem more subtle than in most series books, but I would recommend that you do read “Bolt Action Remedy” first. I think the series is that good; it’s worth your time. The Trevor Galloway series is not the standard police procedural, it’s more of an unlicensed PI procedural–is this even a thing?–, but if you’re a fan of police procedurals you’ll like both of these books. Hell, even you don’t like this genre, you should give these books a chance.

In re-reading this review, I noticed focused quite a bit about what police procedurals do wrong and what Hensley does right. I think this is important as I don’t believe I’m the only one who has soured on the police procedural genre. Hensley gives me hope that the police procedural is not dead. I know you’ve got a lot of choices out there on what to read, but I’ll give this endorsement: after reading the eARC, I bought the paperback. I liked it that much. You can’t go wrong reading Hensley, you really can’t.

Buy: Amazon

* Future Bouchercon organizers: There are enough ex-cops in attendance that you could have multiple panels on how to write accurate police procedurals.  Not only are these types of panels needed, I think they’d be a hit.

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