Those who have followed J.T. Ellison's Taylor Jackson series from its inception will greet SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH, the sixth and latest installment, with great anticipation. Events documented in the first five books have been leading toward the ultimate confrontation between Jackson and The Pretender, her ultimate nemesis. The strength of the new novel is dual-edged, for Ellison not only nearly ties up and together the seemingly discordant threads the previous volumes have presented, but does so in a presentation that is palatable and understandable to readers who are encountering her work for the first time. Remarkably, she is able to do this without sacrificing the storyline and the pacing, both of which are ingenious and first-rate.
There is much that could be given away here, and I am extremely loathe to do that. While Ellison makes the coming together of the myriad paths and connections look easy, it is the type of work that does not come together by happenstance. It simply is not fair to reveal all or even a little of what occurs here, in a few sentences, thus unraveling what has transpired over five previous books and over 400 pages of a sixth. I accordingly will be somewhat general.
The Pretender is the psychopathic and brilliant serial killer. The fiend has crossed swords before with Jackson, who is a highly regarded Nashville police homicide lieutenant. In SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH, The Pretender has chosen to bring matters to a conclusion. In order to effectuate this, he has initiated a contest pitting three serial murderers in a race against each other, beginning at opposite ends of the country with a finish line in Nashville, where the demise of Taylor Jackson is to be the tiebreaker. Jackson is on The Pretender's trail, in large part to wreak vengeance for the injuries inflicted upon her mentor, Pete Fitzgerald, and the murder of his girlfriend. The seemingly meaningless attack on Fitz, however, leads Jackson to some unexpected and important clues concerning The Pretender's background and identity, putting Jackson and her FBI lover, John Baldwin, on The Pretender's trail, one that leads back to Nashville. Baldwin is still under suspension from the FBI and remains not entirely honest.
Meanwhile, a blogger with a tragic tie to previous events in the series uncovers the connection between murders that are suddenly taking place throughout the country and The Pretender, little knowing that she herself possesses a tragic link to him as well. Surprises, mayhem and twists start almost immediately and don't stop until the book's explosive and unexpected conclusion.
SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH presents an ending as well as a beginning of sorts to the series. While most of the primary plot threads that have been building over the past several installments are resolved, one or two are still hanging fire. And as far as the ongoing characters are concerned, I will tell you this much: not everyone walks away intact. And of course, there is Nashville, which remains a wonderful backdrop in Ellison's hands. One cannot help but be tempted to spend a day or two visiting places in the city where tableaus, violent and otherwise, from this and other books in the series are played out. You absolutely must put SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH on your reading list.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 28, 2011