Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Book Review: Monkeewrench

Copyright © 2011, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

Monkeewrench is a Minneapolis software company developing a macabre game: Serial Killer Detective. When real life corpses begin to appear exactly as depicted in the game's gruesome scenarios, Detective Leo Magozzi suspects one of Monkeewrench's five employees, who all carry guns and a puzzling past: they don't seem to have one.

At the same time, over in Kingsford County, Wisconsin, Sheriff Michael Halloran struggles to solve the murder of a couple whose bodies are found in the pews of the local Catholic Church. When he and a deputy go to search their house, a rigged shotgun on the back door kills the deputy. The dead couple aren't who they seem, either.

Author P. J. Tracy (i.e. mother and daughter writing duo Patricia and Traci Lambrecht), swap back and forth between these two unconnected murder storylines until they cleverly come together when Magozzi and Halloran both follow the clues to a Catholic School in New York. The Mother Superior there casually comments to Halloran's deputy that "in all the years she's been at the school they have never once gotten a call from a law enforcement agency before, and wasn't it peculiar that this morning she had two." The two cases spiral together after that.

The novel's characters display distinct attributes and attitudes. The detectives are suitably jaded, and the Monkeewrench people are dubious of anything the police might do. The author keeps you guessing as to the culprit, leading you down multiple paths of suspicion, creeping inexorably to the big climax. Along the way, the ride-along with Magozzi and Halloran is enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the ending breaks a cardinal rule (in my opinion) of a whodunit mystery: the murderer is a minor character who is hardly seen onstage throughout the novel. Thus, the ending feels too contrived, like a Perry Mason episode where the little-seen gardener suddenly confesses on the witness stand, having some heretofore-unknown motive. Regardless, Monkeewrench is well written; a great read and worth the time you spend with it.

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