One would hardly think of Nashville as a setting for a police procedural series. Yet what J.T. Ellison has done with the city in her award-winning Taylor Jackson books is magnificent, combining gritty elements of crime and horror while casting a light into the shadows where evil hides just behind the quiet and comfortable homes and well-lit streets that intersect the city. Set a few blocks and a world away from the strum and thrum of the activity of Nashville’s music industry, Ellison’s Nashville is the dark side of the shiny coin with which the world is familiar. Over the course of four novels, Jackson, a homicide lieutenant with the Nashville police department, has developed into a must-read character who seemingly is a magnet for the cases that demonstrate the worst attributes of humanity. Lovers of mystery and suspense fiction could not ask for more.
THE IMMORTALS, the fifth book in the series, opens with Jackson’s reinstatement with the police department after being exonerated from the accusations documented in JUDAS KISS. It’s Halloween, and Jackson has a perfect if horrific case with which to prove herself worthy of the public trust. It begins with the discovery of the body of a teenage boy in a well-kept home on a quiet Nashville street. Seven more bodies are quickly discovered; almost all of them bear mutilations indicating that the victims were sacrifices in bizarre occult rituals. As is quickly revealed to readers, though not to Jackson, the killings are the doing of a deranged quartet of teenagers. Led by a frightening young man known as Raven, they believe that their actions are blessed by the dark entity known as Death, who in turn will grant them immortality.
But that is not the only reason for the murders and for the selection of victims. Jackson, using the investigative skills she’s become known for, takes a slender evidentiary thread and follows it through the dark underbelly of teenage drug use. She also receives assistance from a surprising and unexpected source, an enigmatic and beautiful woman known only as Ariadne, who holds the key leading to the identity of the monsters who have suddenly imposed a reign of terror and outrage upon Nashville and its residents. It might surprise some readers to learn that Nashville’s primary industries are health care and publishing. Music, alas, comes in number three. Thus this dark tale of Goth murder presents a side to the city far from the Printer’s Alley clubs and Opry halls for which it is more famous.
Even as the investigation proceeds, however, Jackson must set aside distractions in her personal life. FBI Special Supervisory Agent and profiler Dr. John Baldwin, who is Jackson’s professional consultant as well as her fiancé, is not available to help her on this case. Baldwin’s past has come back to haunt him as he’s been called back to FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, to account for an error in judgment and behavior that he committed during the course of an investigation several years previously, one that may now cost him his position.
Jackson is further distraught by the sudden disappearance of Pete “Fitz” Fitzgerald, her mentor and father figure. What is even more upsetting is that what scant evidence there is indicates that Fitz may well have been abducted by the cold-blooded murderer nicknamed “The Pretender.” As Jackson painstakingly follows one lead after another, she uncovers the terrible truth about Raven, even as Ariadne finds herself in terrible danger, leading to a horrific climax that will change everything.
Ellison combines a solid and frightening plot with pitch-perfect pacing and terrific primary and secondary characters --- including a really sketchy set of murderers --- to make THE IMMORTALS her best effort to date. The introduction of Ariadne into the universe is a definite plus, to the extent that her return visit to Jackson’s world at some point in the future would be most welcome. Don’t miss this one, or the series, if you haven’t sampled it yet.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 5, 2011