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Onyx reviews: Whiskey Sour by J. A. Konrath

J.A. Konrath adds something new to the police procedural: irreverence. His protagonist, Lieutenant Jack Daniels, is a brash, fast talking Chicago Police officer...who just happens to be a woman. Jack, as in Jacqueline. She's the daughter of a cop—her mother—who is now retired and living in Florida. Her partner Herb is one of the few cops who don't hit on her and he's someone Jack can be comfortable with because he's old enough to be a father figure.

Jack is investigating what the local police fear may be a serial killer case. The bodies of young women are turning up in trashcans outside of convenience stores and it seems like the killer has a point to make. The way the murderer desecrates the bodies indicates that he has some personal axe to grind. The killings probably aren't random.

The killer gets a step ahead of the media by choosing his own name for himself: the Gingerbread Man, which he declares in a taunting note stapled to the chest of one of the victims. A gingerbread man cookie is found with each of his prey.

Jack's personal life is in turmoil because her long time live-in lover has just left her for his personal trainer. As she approaches middle age, Jack is satisfied with the way her career is developing and willfully decides to do something about her private life, so she joins a video dating service. When she finally meets someone interesting, her successful but violent career threatens to derail the promise of their burgeoning relationship.

Konrath blends the familiar tropes of the genre—a killer who takes an unhealthy interest in the police officer who is hunting for him, for example— with the pithy banter of hardboiled detectives. Robert B. Parker's Spenser and Hawk, and Dennis Lehane's Kenzie and Generro exchange witty, intelligent, skewering dialog while interrogating their suspects. Jack Daniels and her partner Herb Benedict trade quips like they were on a Saturday Night Live sketch.

It's a difficult line for Konrath to walk, and he does stumble with excess from time to time. The primary plot is deadly serious, and Whiskey Sour would have been a perfectly serviceable entry in the taunting serial killer genre even if the author had chosen to play it straight. There's nothing laughable about the Gingerbread Man's motivations or his crimes and the way Jack handles the case from a professional point of view is completely on the level. The dialog, though, is played almost strictly for laughs and readers can't be expected to accept that it is meant to reflect reality.

The book is the first in a new series, with another alcohol inspired title, Bloody Mary, already in the works.

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