Over the recent past, two of us, the inestimable Ali Canary and myself, have commended the talent of crime-fiction writer J.A. Konrath to your attention. He may have moved ahead of the great Elmore Leonard in the area of crime and-dare I say it-Stephen King in the area of horror. That is not to say there are any supernatural phenomena in Konrath’s stories. He has a way of making the real life of his protagonists terrifying enough.
Mind you, when I say Konrath may have moved to the top of his field, I am basing that on his 2006 novel Dirty Martini, which I discussed in an earlier article. Feel free to link up and see for yourself. To this point in my not-entirely-unread life, that tale may be the most suspenseful one I have ever read.
Like Dirty Martini, this next of Konrath’s books, Fuzzy Navel, involves Detective Jacqueline (Jack) Daniels of the Chicago police department. It also involves many of the same people she continuously seems to encounter in most of her previous books, some by design and some by unwanted accident. That applies especially to one very difficult customer she foiled in an earlier novel, Rusty Nail. Unfortunately for her, among all the Konrath villains who strive to make Lt. Daniels’ live impossible, this one did not take the eagerly-awaited dirt nap in that earlier tale.
Also, like Dirty Martini, it is excellent. I mentioned a flaw – don’t worry, I will get to it at some point – but I should also note, the flaw does not manifest itself until the story has pretty much been told. In the meantime, you have a hum-doozy of a thriller, which you may finish in a single day, owing to the absolute impossibility of your being able to put the book down. Make no mistake, this is quality stuff.
In addition to the loose end Detective Daniels and her doughty crew did not entirely wrap up in Rusty Nail, there is another factor at play: a factor of three.
Greg Swanson is a nebbish guy with a nebbish job, who, nonetheless, has been carrying around a world of rage inside. His wife had been sexually assaulted, and though they caught the “perp” and gave him a decade to think his actions over in a structured environment, the chuckleheads in charge of the system let him out in five for his apparently exemplary behavior.
Swanson, not unreasonably, wants to settle the score by killing his wife’s rapist, but he is smart enough to know he would be suspect #1 if he simply blew the guy away. Now, Swanson does make his kill, and early on, by means of a subterfuge (involving two comrades) that would not automatically direct the authorities to his doorstep.
Initially, Swanson’s plan runs like clockwork, but a finagle factor that he had never counted on gets worked into the mix. That factor (Read the book. No bean spillage here.) upsets Swanson’s life considerably, but, it also really upsets Lt. Daniels’.
Oh, and, just to make things especially interesting, Daniels does not enjoy the luxury of coping, first with the remnant from the earlier book, then with Swanson’s finagle factor. She gets it all slopped on her plate, pretty much at once.
Konrath uses a device that I like when it is done effectively, as, for example, Wilkie Collins did in The Moonstone, except that Konrath’s is a far grislier tale. What the author of Fuzzy Navel does is tell the story from different characters’ points of view, and he uses all the major characters in this respect: the good, the bad and the ugly. Just about everybody except Jack’s rambunctious cat gets a turn. Well, it’s not quite that inclusive, but almost. Suffice it to say that Konrath uses this device very effectively.
Now, what’s this about a flaw? The flaw is not so much that the author leaves us with a loose end. I perfectly understand that is a necessary stratagem to set up the next book, Cherry Bomb. What I object to-and strenuously-is that he leaves us with a totally cheap cliffhanger on top of that. And when I say it is cheap, I do not mean it is unimportant. I can’t say for sure, since it is, after all, a cliffhanger, but I have the unmistakable feeling it is very damn important.
No, what is cheap about that device at the end of the story is that it was so unnecessary. You are too good a writer, Mr. Konrath, to rely on such tawdry devices. You could have and should have resolved the issue you deliberately chose to leave unresolved. You should have a little faith in your readers that they will want to follow the further adventures of Jack Daniels in any case.
Yet, for all that disappointment in the author’s uncharacteristic lack of generosity toward the reader, I would very strongly recommend that you read this book, if you want another thrilling ride through Konrath’s pages.
Fuzzy Navel, by J.A. Konrath
Dirty Martini, by J.A. Konrath
Rusty Nail, by J.A. Konrath