Sunday, March 27, 2011

So Close the Hand of Death - J.T. Ellison

I’m not a big fan of serial killer novels, but I read one now and then. And J.T. Ellison is another of those writers I don’t really know, but we have lots of mutual friends. So I picked up her newest novel about Nashville homicide detective Taylor Jackson, SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH, and gave it a try. I’m glad I did.

I’ll admit that at first I had a little trouble getting into this one, because there’s a lot of back-story. As with quite a bit of current mystery fiction, it might be better to read this series in order (which I intend to do, now that I’ve sampled it). But Ellison does a good job of bringing new readers up to speed, and once I had all the characters straight, the rest of the book really races along.

In this one, Taylor Jackson has to track down a serial killer she’s encountered before. The Pretender, who apprenticed himself to a killer Jackson took down in a previous book, mimics the murder methods of famous serial killers of the past. To make things worse, it appears that he’s taken on apprentices of his own and has followers carrying out murders in various places across the country. Complicating things even more is a true-crime blogger who may have figured out who The Pretender is, and he definitely knows who she is.

There are a few soap opera undertones – Jackson works with an FBI special agent and profiler with whom she has a romantic relationship – but for the most part the book is a straight-ahead procedural filled with nice details about how the authorities track down serial killers and punctuated with bursts of well-done action. Taylor Jackson is a fine character, plenty tough but not unrealistically so, and Ellison produces some good, hardboiled prose.

As I mentioned above, if you haven’t been reading this series, you should probably start at the first. But if you have, you certainly don’t want to miss SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH. (Ellison’s other novels, which I assume all feature Taylor Jackson, are ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, 14, JUDAS KISS, THE COLD ROOM, and THE IMMORTALS.)

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