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Onyx reviews: Bloody Mary by J.A. Konrath

There are hardboiled detectives, and then there's Detective Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, the highest ranking female cop in the Chicago Violent Crimes Unit, a fast-talking, wisecracking woman of a certain age who's been through an ugly divorce and is currently struggling to maintain a new relationship despite the demands of her job.

She also has a penchant for drawing the attention of serial killers.

If author J. A. Konrath isn't exactly breaking new ground with a story about a psychotic murderer intent on bringing down a police officer, he's at least doing the subgenre no ill. Following the recent trend, Konrath gives his serial killer his own point of view in parallel with Daniels' first person perspective. The detective realizes she is being targeted when the first "body" is discovered in the morgue-two arms that are linked by her personalized handcuffs. The killer clearly has access to police property.

Daniels and her partner Herb uncover the killer's identity midway through the book, and it turns out to be someone who has been featured prominently enough that readers will want to leaf back and look at his scenes to see the clever hints Konrath left in plain sight.

The killer's arrest isn't the end of the matter, though, because the psychopath knows all the cops' tricks. His motivation is somewhat unique: only by committing acts of brutal violence can he fend off debilitating migraines. The possible source of these headaches also provides him with the perfect defense. His medical condition, combined with a rather ingenious use for an ordinary office staple to foil a lie detector test, makes it look like he's going to get off scott free

While Daniels is trying to put the killer away and keep herself and those around her from falling prey to his lunacy, she also has to deal with a series of personal upheavals. Her aging mother, who lives in Florida, has been suffering weak spells and probably shouldn't be living on her own. After bad blood arises between them, her mother arrives in Chicago with Daniels' ex-husband in tow. These new living arrangements put a serious crimp in her plans to move in with her stable, reliable accountant boyfriend. Though she is understandably upset by her mother's obvious manipulation, she is forced to confront unresolved feelings for her ex-husband. Oh, and she also has temporary custody of one of the least sociable cats in fiction.

Her partner Herb has some issues of his own-he's losing weight, gaining a new self-image, and is contemplating ditching his wife, which leads to ugly tension between him and Daniels.

When it seems inevitable that the killer will be absolved of responsibility for the crimes of which he stands accused, Daniels and Herb turn their attention to the miscreant's past to determine if his path of destruction started earlier than they realized and to uncover any previous crimes that might fall outside the scope of his "alibi."

Bloody Mary is the sequel to last year's Whiskey Sour—the events of which were fictionalized in this book by Daniel's former partner, sleazy P.I. Harry McGlade—and author Konrath is beginning to show that his series has potential beyond the somewhat thin premise of drink-inspired titles and character names, and zippy (mostly) one liners. Though his tongue is still pressed firmly into his cheek at times, Bloody Mary is a more serious crime novel than its predecessor and a positive step forward for Konrath, who has yet another Jack Daniels novel waiting in the wings.

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