The second book in Lis Wiehl and April Henry's Triple Threat series finds a familiar trio --- TV crime journalist Cassidy Shaw, FBI agent Nicole Hedges, and federal prosecutor Allison Pierce --- trying to sort out the aftermath of the murder of a shock jock and the panic that results when word hits the streets that he was the victim of a deadly gas. Believing that the gas has spread throughout the city of Portland, Oregon, fear-stricken people rush to get out of the city, creating chaos and throwing the city into a disaster state like it's never seen before.
The authors grab the reader's attention immediately with the introduction of soon-to-be-dead Jim Fate, a radio talk show host who collapses within seconds of opening a padded envelope containing a gas canister that automatically releases a toxic spray. Fate dies alone in the broadcast studio as helpless co-workers look on through the glass window of the soundproof booth.
Fate's reputation for getting his audiences riled up means that law enforcement officials have their work cut out for them. There's certainly no shortage of suspects for the murder, with federal agents, including Hedges, and local officers following leads that seem to lead nowhere. Unofficially teaming up with Hedges are Shaw and Pierce, all three old friends and now members of the Triple Threat Club. Without a doubt, one of the three will solve this mystery, with a healthy dose of help from the other two.
While Portland grapples with widespread terror and uncertainty, and as the three women pursue the answers to the questions plaguing the city, each of the three is forced to face drama in her own life as well. And believe me, there's plenty of personal drama and lots of issues to be confronted: rape and domestic violence, illegal immigration, single parenthood, aging, pregnancy. Whether that drama matters to you depends on how well you can relate to the women, of course. For me, even though the characters were somewhat believable and the dialogue was even more credible, the three women's personalities were too much alike to make them distinctive.
Allison Pierce is married, pregnant and a Christian, and her occasional talk about God, her marriage and her unborn child eventually manage to set her apart from the other two women. But then again, she also had an unusual connection to perhaps the most memorable character in the entire book --- a young girl named Estella, who gets separated from her mother in the confusion that defines downtown Portland. Allison discovers the child wandering alone and tries to find her mother, but that effort is hampered by Allison's limited knowledge of Spanish, the only language Estella knows. Estella's story is unrelated to the main murder-mystery plot, but her plight steals the show for several chapters.
But back to the murder. You'll likely be surprised when the killer's identity is discovered, and not just because the authors did a good job of making it a surprise. The real surprise is the killer's motive and the tenuous reason the killer chose to murder Fate in particular. But that's a small problem in what is generally a satisfying murder mystery --- perfect for the beach or a rainy afternoon indoors.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on April 6, 2010
Hand of Fate: A Triple Threat Novel