The Test by B.A. Sherman is the riveting novel of a good cop gone bad, and the first in the Greg Dorn series. Greg Dorn is a good-guy cop working in a small town, reducing traffic accidents by 35% and generally loving every minute of his job. He’s also the victim of a tragic history: his mom and sister died in a car accident when he was young. When Dorn decides to move to the big city – Denver, Colorado – things take a turn for the worse. He sees road rage and bad behavior wherever he turns, and a voice starts growing inside him to become a personal vigilante.
As a veteran police officer of 24 years, Sherman really knows his subject inside and out and it gives a great sense of reality and tension to the novel. We follow Dorn through the academy and we learn the differences between small town and big city police work. When Dorn starts to go mad – being told to commit crimes by a sinister inner voice called “It” – there’s a terrifying immediacy to it. A police officer must get frustrated by the non-stop barrage of bad behavior and it’s like Sherman is examining his darkest thoughts as a form of catharsis. As he writes in his author description, he writes about real life with “a heaping spoonful of fiction.” Let’s hope so!
Greg Dorn is a tragic figure, a victim in his life and inside his own mind. This was a tough balance for Sherman to manage, and he does so well. As Dorn commits worse and worse crimes, there’s a good potential for Dorn to become completely unsympathetic. He does not. Dorn is an engaging figure throughout, which bodes well for other books in the series.
At times, Dorn alternates between being completely naive (moving to Denver with eyes wide open) and hardboiled (using profanity liberally), so his character is a bit uneven. There’s that old problem of telling and not showing – we’re told of how how he’s going crazy, without fully describing the feeling. Additionally, there are structural problems that detract from the strength of the story. One could argue this breakdown in his language is due to the character unraveling, but many of these issues are purely grammatical. Here’s an example:
The academy was tough, no doubt about it, but a mental tough, not physical. It turned out to be a lot of learning the policies and procedures the police department adheres to. Their manual was the thickest I’d ever seen roughly the size of an old yellow New York telephone book would look like.
Again, there’s some allowance for cluttered thinking because Dorn has a cluttered mind, but these issues are a step too far.
This is unfortunate because The Test has a solid and interesting story at its core. Sherman clearly has passion for his subject, and the knowledge to make it shine above other police stories. If some of the structural issues get ironed out, Greg Dorn is a vibrant and fascinating character, and a good basis for a series. Looking forward to more from this author.