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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Love, Hate, and Fear in the Big Apple

At the end of the day, it all boils down to love (or lust), doesn't it? Well, maybe not for everyone; some people are perfectly happy without such pesky distractions cluttering up their lives, of course. But for most of us, it's safe to say that we're pretty much at the whims of our hearts (or libidos, for the more cynically-minded out there). Whatever that ineffable spark is--the thing that makes our stomachs do crazy somersaults and causes a few other parts to get all warm and tingly, once we experience it we might as well accept that we're goners, and just buckle up to go along for the ride.

Unfortunately, though, our hearts and libidos as often as not decide to be bloomin' idiots, neither knowing nor caring what's best for us. Compounding matters, too many of us just aren't that mentally or emotionally stable, to start with... and that, naturally, is where a whole mess of problems begin.

New York City police detective Ellie Hatcher finds herself investigating multiple incidents of just such love/lust gone bad, in Alafair Burke's latest thriller, 212.

It all starts--badly, for her--with a flashy case involving one of the "beautiful people". When Ellie and her partner, JJ Rogan, get called to the scene of this particular murder, they encounter a media nightmare: the handsome bodyguard of über-wealthy real estate mogul (and mover-&-shaker, man-about-town) Sam Sparks is dead, in his boss's showplace apartment, in his boss's bed. When Sparks shows up and demanding access to his luxury penthouse apartment--showing no remorse over the death of his employee, but voicing plenty of annoyance at all the inconvenience he's being put through--he and Ellie get off on the wrong foot in a big way, resulting in Sparks being escorted in handcuffs through the hovering media circus to the police station for a little chat. (Their little contretemps is something that will continue to haunt Ellie throughout the remainder of the story, including, at one point, an overnight stay in the hoosegow for her.)

Fast-forwarding a few months, finds Ellie and Rogan making next-to-no progress on the case. They've checked out Sparks--as thoroughly as they've been able, given the restraints placed on them via the hard work of Sparks' high-dollar lawyers--and haven't unearthed any likely motives. They haven't come up with any other suspects, either, since the fingerprints pulled from the room produced no hits. Since all their efforts have yielded less-than-impressive results, their boss puts them back on new assignments, forcing them to back-burner the Sparks case.

Meanwhile, a student at NYU has just found something very alarming while engaging in a little surreptitious web-surfing during a boring class. A popular website, with unique threads for juicy gossip from different universities all over the country, has an area devoted to NYU... and meek, mild-mannered Megan Gunther has just come across a series of posts, about her. Her daily schedule--at school, after classes, and at home--is there for everyone to see, both times and whereabouts. Worse, the anonymous poster threatens that he/she is "watching". Understandably freaked out, Megan goes to the police, only to be told that the website has been investigated before, and that--due to the nature of the untraceable posts which the site owner actually encourages--there's really nothing they can do for her. Megan returns home, scared and dejected.

Ellie and Rogan are equally dismayed and horrified to learn about all this the next day, after they're called to the scene of a new case--the murder of one college girl, and the vicious stabbing of the girl's roommate, who can only describe their attacker as "a guy in a ski mask". Of more help is her telling them about the dead girl's ex-boyfriend, who was still bitter about his "ex" status. Tracking him down doesn't prove easy, though, since the roommate only knows his first name.

The tension escalates the following day when the detectives pick up another case, this one involving the murder of a young, seemingly-successful female realtor in a swanky hotel. After finding out that her co-workers can offer no ideas, a laborious search through the woman's phone records eventually leads them to a most unexpected place--an escort service called Prestige Parties, which supposedly caters to an exclusive (safe, rich) clientele. Even more surprising, they learn that another one of their victims has connections to the same establishment. (Without going into details, let me say that I really like the way the interactions between the detectives and PP's management staff go down; it definitely isn't one of those "oh, I've read this so many times before" kind of scenes.)

Feeling helpless against a threat they still can't figure out, the pair then races all over the "212" (the NY area code encompassing the action in the story), tracking down leads and questioning anyone who might know something about the dead women, the (now-missing) survivor, an artist (who is somehow connected to everyone else), a district court judge, their own lieutenant, and even--coming around full-circle--Sam Sparks, himself. Unless/until they can get to the bottom of everything--preferably sooner rather than later--Ellie and Rogan know that more women will be in danger of dying, as well as anyone else who might happen to get in the murderer's way.

The mystery is, of course, eventually solved, and we see that love and lust--the "acceptable" as well as the twisted--are, indeed, at the root of all the assorted evils committed during the course of 212. (Trust me, that one statement that won't spoil anything.) But just who does what, and why, manages to hold some surprises not only for the detectives, but for the reader, as well.

Ms. Burke--the daughter of famous crime novelist James Lee Burke--now has six books in print (three featuring NYC detective Ellie Hatcher, and three legal thrillers featuring attorney Samantha Kincaid), and I've read and enjoyed each one shortly after it's come off the press. Both heroines are smart, likeable, "real" women; they make mistakes, they say or do things they sometimes shouldn't, and they don't know every single thing. They have ordinary conversations, eat real food, and are involved in believable relationships (familial, platonic, and romantic). It's easy to imagine being friends with them, and that alone makes these books worth picking up. More than that, though, Burke always delivers a terrific yarn--clever, unputdownable stories that I think I'm just on the verge of figuring out... only to discover that there's another layer, something else going on that I didn't even suspect.

It all adds up to an entertaining, intelligent, and exciting read... and I'm always more than happy to recommend one of those. :)

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 4.5 out of 5 mousies

3 comments:

  1. Thanks GlamKitty! I trust your reviews implicitly and have put this book on hold at the library. I'll also keep an eye out for Ms. Burke's books. I have always enjoyed her father's.

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  2. Just finished this book. A always, your reviews are excellent!

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  3. I'm really glad you enjoyed it! I recommend her other books, as well... :)

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