Live Bait, by PJ Tracy

>> Sunday, April 15, 2012

TITLE: Live Bait

PAGES: 400

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Mystery / Suspense
SERIES: #2 in the Monkeewrench series

A murder-free spell in Minneapolis is shattered when two elderly men are found murdered in one night - both self-sufficient, utterly innocent, and beloved. As the victim toll mounts, homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth struggle to find a connection between victims in a demographic group rarely targeted by serial killers, and find elusive threads that uncover a series of horrendous secrets, some buried within the heart of the police department itself, blurring the lines between heroes and villains. Grace MacBride's cold-case-solving software may find the missing link - but at a terrible price.
After weeks with no murders at all, Leo Magozzi and his homicide detective colleagues are getting a bit bored. It's not that they want people to die, but they've had to resort to looking at cold cases, and that's no fun. But obviously, when it rains, it pours, and when the murders start, they come in fast and furious. And eerily similar, all elderly people, in the same neighbourhood. Three of them are Jewish, concentration camp survivors, but there's another victim that breaks the pattern completely, just to make things difficult for our detectives. Is this a serial killer, unlikely as it may sound? If not there must be a connection there the detectives are not seeing.

I'm enjoying this series immensely. The cases in the two books I've read so far have been top-notch: fresh, interesting and with brilliant resolutions, which have had several seemingly unconnected strands coming together in a very satisfying way. I especially like the professionalism and intelligence of the detectives. They work their cases hard, but in ways that feel real. No inspired guesses that come from nowhere, no unbelievable coincidences. And also, no cheating on the part of the author, which I always appreciate. I was constantly only half a step ahead of the investigators, the most satisfying possible state of affairs when reading a mystery.

In addition to the case, I think the reason I liked this book so much was that the characters are so very individual, especially the detectives. They are quite quirky (in a good way, without being annoying!), which is not the usual characterisation of tough homicide detectives. They are just very, very human. Tracy develops their personalities and focuses on their feelings and how they are affected by the crimes they are investigating, but without in any way making this self-indulgent and all about the detectives' angst. They are just real people, and real people feel stuff.

Gino Rolseth, Magozzi's partner, is probably my favourite character so far. I don't really know how to describe him, he's like a big child, but at the same time, possibly the most well-adjusted of all the characters we meet. The things he says often leave others with their mouths hanging open (like when he blithely asks a 7-foot-tall scary guy about his facial scars and they bond over the fact that they were knife wounds inflicted in prison and over the yummy food the man's cooked for them), but he has a way of cutting to the heart of things.

As this suggests, there is quite a lot of humour here. It's a harrowing case, and these flashes of humour kept it bearable, and they never cheapened or made light of the tragedy. We're not talking hah-hah funny, it's more like gently amusing, and I liked it.

The first book in the series centred around the owners of the Monkeewrech company (the case involved them), but they are more in the background here. Grace and Leo are involved in a slowly developing relationship (seriously, it's glacially slow), and she and her partners have used their computer geek expertise to put together a programme that specialises in finding links between people, crimes, or whatever the police need. Obviously, this is used during this investigation, and provides a key clue, but I was left wanting more of this element. Not a problem, it looks like the Monkeewrench peeps will play a much larger role in the next book.

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


Darlynne,  15 April 2012 at 18:15  

I really enjoy this series, too, precisely because the characters are neither uniformly beautiful and powerful, but boy are they smart. I wish the Monkeewrench gang were real and fighting crime for us as they do in the books.

Rosario 16 April 2012 at 07:05  

Darlynne: LOL! Oh, it would be great to have a programme like theirs. I can't wait to see them work their magic with it a bit more. Trying to hold myself back from gobbling up the rest of the series, but it's hard!

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