Chicago police lieutenant Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels and her partner, Herb Benedict, run into a little problem at the morgue. There are extra body parts that don't seem to belong to any of the morgue's temporary residents. That's the opener to BLOODY MARY, the second installment in J.A. Konrath's mystery series featuring Lt. Jack Daniels.
Jack and Herb begin their investigation in the midst of personal struggles that humanize their characters. Jack comes across as a tough lady who isn't as sure how to navigate outside the confines of police work as she is while on a case. Her family challenges will seem very familiar to baby boomers facing similar issues.
Thankfully, those readers are most unlikely to face the mutilated corpses Jack has to deal with in her professional life. The combination of home and work stress would probably destroy a lesser woman.
Konrath weaves in the voice of the killer in his story without, at first, identifying him. This device, though popular, is tricky. The writer has to do it in such a way that his (the killer's and the writer's) secret isn't revealed too early in the novel. Konrath mostly nails it with this character, but faces the additional challenge --- as all contemporary mystery writers do --- of writing for a public steeped in forensic and cold case plots from television shows. The part of the population that watches those series has seen a lot of twists on gruesome murders and will be hard to impress (or shock). Konrath's success in BLOODY MARY is in giving readers surprises throughout, including an early break for the detectives.
And since Jack Daniels generally is a fun character to follow, the story in BLOODY MARY moves along quickly --- almost too quickly, considering the brutality of the murders. Of course, almost doesn't count, and in this case that works well for Konrath. He strikes a balance between giving readers fictitious horrors while engaging them in the life of his flawed yet courageous heroine. It should be no surprise that her spitfire of a mother is just as feisty, fun and (at least on the outside) fearless. She's a welcome presence in the story.
Konrath has produced a highly readable, if gruesome, mystery with a creepy take on the dark side of funeral homes thrown in for good measure. BLOODY MARY is a good pick for summer reading, so the sunlight can keep the reader grounded as things turn dark for Jack and crew.
Reviewed by Bernadette Davis on December 22, 2010