Download Vertical Coffin Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Vertical Coffin

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

“Vertical coffin” is a term used by SWAT teams to describe an entryway, the most vulnerable spot for gunfire, and in Stephen J. Cannell’s fourth novel featuring Los Angeles Police Department officer Shane Scully, four murders occur precisely this way, the victims shot as they enter or exit a door.

L.A. Sheriff Deputy Emo Rojos, one of Scully’s friends, is blasted away at the door of a house where he is serving an arrest warrant. Units quickly appear at the scene, and the perp fires at them with an AK-47 with a hundred-round mag and lead core rounds. In the midst of the crossfire, Scully and another friend, Sonny Lopez, make a run for the door to check on Rojos, retrieving his dead body just before the entire house explodes. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) had given the job of serving the warrant to the L. A. Sheriff’s department, apparently without warning that the suspect, Vincent Smiley, had an arsenal of weapons and explosives.

Soon an ATF man is shot in the doorway to his own house, followed by a similar murder of an L. A. Sheriff. The mayor orders the Los Angeles police department to investigate, and the chief, Scully’s wife, gives the job to Scully, as the only one she can trust. As the hostilities escalate, his role is reduced by various federal agencies. This does not deter Scully, though he too makes some bad judgments as he relentlessly pursues the case.

Stephen J. Cannell has created more than forty television series, including The Rockford Files (1974-1980), Silk Stalkings (1991-1999), and The Commish (1991-1996). His Shane Scully novels, likewise, are packed with police-idiom dialogue and total action scenes.