J. A. Konrath is a very funny guy, friendly and likable. That’s why I think he has an evil twin who writes the Jack Daniels series. How else could you explain the accuracy with which he depicts one of fiction’s most disturbing serial killers? Alex Kork must be every cop’s worst nightmare --- a psychotic, highly intelligent, strong monster who kills people with the detachment of someone stepping on an ant. The methods that she devises are straight out of Satan’s handbook.
In CHERRY BOMB, Alex is piling up bodies in an attempt to get back at Jack for disfiguring her and to avenge the death of her one true love. It’s hard, though, to imagine her ever loving anyone; she is completely heartless. This fact, coupled with her relentless pursuit of her quarry, makes it even more difficult to anticipate her moves. She is not motivated by normal values and desires. Yet the police and those who are trying to stop her are subject to both legal and moral constraints.
As Jack evaluates her situation, in frustration she thinks, “Life had no meaning. It had no point. I’d chosen a career to do good. To prevent cruelty, and death, and suffering. To right wrongs. To fight for something important. But nothing I did mattered. I didn’t change anything. And I’d brought upon myself the very things I’d tried to prevent.” That’s how dealing with evil effects good people. It makes them question themselves, and doubt sets in. It can even lead them to bend the rules and become more like their adversary.
And, while Jack agonizes over her responsibility, Alex simply follows the typical psycho method of coping: “When in pain, the best way to take your mind off of it is to cause pain.” It works for her.
While CHERRY BOMB seems to be a bit darker than some of the previous novels in this series, it is not without Konrath’s signature wit and sense of irony. These serve not only to relieve some of the tension, but also to provide simple enjoyment to those of us who appreciate words. For example, when Jack’s partner Herb is trying to convince her to turn in a piece of evidence, Jack thinks, “We’d been partners for over a decade, and often played conscience for each other. But right now I needed an enabler.” Like that. However, I must say that I for one could have lived without quite so much of Slappy. But you’ll have to decide for yourself.
With a little help from her friends --- the ambiguously annoying/lovable Harry McGlade, the ambiguously honest/bank robber Phineas Troutt, and her consistently wise partner, Herb Benedict --- Jack is able to confront her sworn enemy in a deliciously satisfying resolution.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on December 26, 2010