Mysteries with strong female leads seem to be a stable standard of the literature industry by now. I applaud this – in my experience as a reader, a female lead usually means there is a strong emphasis on the mystery part, and that’s just what I want to read when the days are short and the nights are long. (Unless I want some high octane action, in which case I seem to prefer a male lead. That probably tells you more about me than about the books I’m reading.)
So we’ll start with Jorja Knight, our female lead – this is the first in a proposed series of mysteries about her, so obviously everything stands – and falls – with her as a person.
Jorja “Jojo” Knight is working two jobs – private investigator, and first person narrator of the book. Which makes it easier for us to empathize with her (the power of first person), and it also helps in building the mystery – because as we’re seeing the world through her eyes, we discover the pieces of the puzzle with her.
And she is a likeable character, well built, with more than a hint of a well defined background story. In other words, she feels like a real person, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for in a series character. I’ll say the Jorja Knight Mysteries are off to a good and promising start!
All the other characters are seen through her eyes, and they seem authentic enough. Although there are some cliches and stereotypes here, but then again, stereotypes usually work well, and they do it for a reason.
So, what about the mystery then?
As usual, things are starting quite innocent before taking a turn for the worse. Tension builds slowly, which is a successful formula for a mystery. But before we reach that point, we have to suffer through the fact that Jorja is working multiple jobs at once, with only one being of real interest to the mystery.
Yes, I know, a PI will usually struggle with multiple, overlapping jobs and money and all that jazz, so this is kinda authentic. And it gives the author an opportunity to hint at Jojo’s past. All is well.
But it feels kinda incoherent in terms of plot, and it turned quite a large portion of the book – the part after 10 % and before 70 % – into a drag for me. I believe you could shorten the parts about the other jobs to a few sentence without losing anything relevant to the story.
So, the real case. When we start, we don’t know how much it will evolve. But there are quite some twists there – the road up ahead is winding and dangerous. But it’s also very, very winding and riddled with stuff that adds length to the novel, but no meat to the bones of the case. This saddens me, because it’s dragging the novel down a notch or two.
And then we finally get to the part where things start to take a turn for the worse. A case searching for a holocaust survivor turns into a missing persons case turns into a case about disappearing homeless persons (and more). That might sound like a stretch, but it is well constructed and well plotted (between all the other stuff that’s happening), and the turn of events have a natural feeling to them.
It’s also the point where I started to question Jojo’s work ethic. Oh, she was trying to do everything in a good and orderly fashion, no worries, but there have been several points in the investigation where she did not call her client when she should have, really, and had she shared some of her findings earlier on, a lot of negative stuff later on could have been avoided. Which begs the question: Why didn’t she do so? Because the motivation given – that she always wants more facts – doesn’t work for me. I think there are several thresholds that, once established, could have been told the client. So it’s starting to look like a plot way to increase the dramatic later on, which does work, but rubs me all the wrong way.
I also had the feeling sometimes that she’s acting way too stupid for a PI. Minor spoiler, but if I crawl into my rental and are hit by a stench I can’t identify, I would at least have taken a look into the trunk before I went to the garage. Especially since said rental has no locked trunk and that space is accessible to everyone passing by. (And by the way, if you happen to hit your abductor in the head with a metal bar – you goddamn finish the job with a second or third blow. Jesus, Jojo, get a grip on reality!)
In the end, it took me way too long to read through this book. That might say something about my state of mind during that time, but it’s also testament to the fact this story was not gripping my attention the way other books did. And I think that’s in part due to the target underwhelming mystery. Yes, there’s more to it, but for the majority of the book, you can only hope there’s more to it. Because for a long time, it just looks like “hey, x disposed of y to get y’s identity. Reason unknown, but uninteresting”. There’s simply no hook for the reader to get invested in it, and the other non-case related parts happening make it even harder to be invested by removing the reader ever farther from the mystery. And at some point, the naturalness of turning points starts to stretch the fantasy a bit. Too much coincidences there.
In the end, a very mixed bag. I’d say 2.5, but I’m switching to 3 stars because it’s a debut in a series that shows promise. Further installments in this series might improve if Jojo learns to stay focused on the task at hand long enough to not lose the reader in-between all that other stuff happening.
Disclaimer: I’ve received a free Advanced Reader’s Copy and am leaving this review voluntarily.