Players, by Mike Markel [Review]

Players is a satisfying police procedural with rich characters and a fine, twisty plot.

Players is the seventh book in author Mike Markel’s series featuring two police detectives in the fictional town of Rawlings, Montana. This is my first dive into the series, which I picked up because of the subject matter – a murder mystery inside a college football program. (The cover image for this book shares some elements of my own football-themed book, Fatal Infraction.) The story here was satisfyingly complex, well-written, and full of rich characters.

The main plot involves the overdose death of a former player on the Central Montana State football team (a fictional college). The overdose is not accidental, and the investigation into Lake Williams’ murder consumes detectives Seagate and Minor. Before long, two other people connected to the first murder end up dead. All the while, the two detectives follow a traditional pattern of a good police procedural; interviewing the witnesses, connecting the clues, and spinning out possible theories. There is a good amount of misdirection (appropriate for a football theme) and it’s hard to see who really has the ball. There are plenty of potential suspects, plenty of possible motives, and a deep backstory to unravel. The pace is good and the pages turn easily through to the surprising but well-spun conclusion. You don’t need to be a football fan (there are no football play sequences) and the author weaves in issues of the exploitation of college athletes, corrupt coaches, and CTE brain injuries, which add nice depth to the murder mystery.

There are a few places where the detectives make leaps of logic that may not be fully supported by the facts presented, there are a few summary and exposition sections that could have been trimmed, and some key facts come in very late. But these are minor issues that don’t detract significantly from this engaging story. I will certainly be checking out the earlier books in this series.

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