As we approach the end of 2011, what should slip under the wire but one of the better thrillers of the year? Robert Ellis is not quite a household name yet, but on the strength of MURDER SEASON, his fifth novel, such a destiny seems inevitable. This is a strong, riveting read from beginning to end.
"As we approach the end of 2011, what should slip under the wire but one of the better thrillers of the year? Robert Ellis is not quite a household name yet, but on the strength of MURDER SEASON, his fifth novel, such a destiny seems inevitable."
Ellis wastes no time in getting to the meat of his title. LAPD homicide detective Lena Gamble senses the annual murder season of the city coming within the first page. Indeed, she has barely rolled out of bed when she finds herself enmeshed in a double homicide investigation that puts the embattled police department behind the eight-ball from the jump. Two bodies are discovered at Club 3 AM, an exclusive Hollywood spot that caters to the rich and famous. One of the victims is Johnny Bosco, a part owner of the club and its public face; the other is a 25-year-old named Jacob Gant, who is possibly the most hated man in southern California. Gant had been charged with the brutal rape and murder of Lilly Hight, his 16-year-old neighbor. His conviction seemed all but assured. Yet, after a highly-publicized jury trial, he was acquitted, leaving an outraged public, as well as an embarrassed district attorney’s office, which once again had seemingly botched a high-profile murder case.
Tim Hight, Lilly’s father, seems to be the most likely suspect in the double murders, and, indeed, security cameras show him driving away from the club shortly after the killings took place. Thus, the D.A.’s office and the LAPD are apparently tasked with arresting and convicting the man who would appear to be most justified in carrying out a revenge killing. Gamble begins working with Greg Vaughn, an assistant D.A. who has been designated as the de facto sacrificial lamb in the prosecution of the case. Gamble wants to have her ducks lined up before arresting Hight, and so begins to carefully implement a methodical investigation that appears to demonstrate that he indeed is the guilty party.
She becomes puzzled, though, when certain elements of the evidence don’t seem to make sense. When she quietly and unofficially reopens the investigation into Lilly’s murder, she discovers an unexpected cover-up, one that leads her to the conclusions that Gant’s original prosecution was a miscarriage of justice, and that his eventual acquittal was justified by far more than the slick machinations of a powerful criminal defense attorney.
But Gamble is most surprised by the reaction she gets when it’s discovered that she’s sniffing around the original investigation into Lilly’s death. Her job and even her well-being are threatened, and no wonder. Gamble follows an evidentiary trail full of twists and turns, one that leads to the last place she would expect, as new revelations about the suspects and victims continue right up until the last ironic paragraph.
Reading is often the last thing on even the most seasoned mystery aficionado’s mind during the holidays. Notwithstanding the time of year, don’t put off reading MURDER SEASON for a single day. Within the space of a few books, Ellis has demonstrated that rare ability to skillfully navigate his readers through a complex plot filled with interesting, dangerous and surprising characters. If you need an escape from the anxiety of the season --- or even if you don’t --- MURDER SEASON is just the ticket.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 15, 2011