Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In 'Stirred', Jack Daniels Takes the Highway to Hell



Review: STIRRED (Thomas & Mercer 2011)
Authors: Blake Crouch and J.A. Konrath


STIRRED finds (retired) Lieutenant Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels (formerly) of the Chicago Police Department seated not-so-comfortably in the ER with her significant other, Phin, a bank robber-turned-nice guy. Apparently. Jack is, not to put too fine a point on it, preggers out to here. Eight and half months into pregnancy and suffering from preeclampsia. As in pre-eclampsia. Eclampsia being a condition that could kill her and/or her unborn child. So. Not. Cool.

Mid-examination, Jack learns that a sociopath named Luther Kite -- a man she both hates and fears more than anyone else on earth -- has killed someone in the most spectacular way.

Well, what's a little eclampsia when a maniac is out there, maybe after your ass? Jack hops off the table, pulls her clothes on (maybe), runs out the freaking door and catches a ride with her reluctant chauffeur/business partner Harry McGlade straight to the crime scene.

And learns that Luther left a message inside the body for Jack.

Turns out this message is a clue to the next murder. Because there is a next murder.

It's all part of huge game (involving Dante's Divine Comedy and the nine circles of hell) that Luther's devised for Jack, who's so stubborn/determined/scared/idiotic/take your pick that she just has to be the one to apprehend this man. Even though eclampsia is nothing to sneeze at. It's a freaking serious condition that requires bed rest or you could seriously kill yourself. Honest!

Thing about thrillers is that they are big concept stories. And one concept here is the amazing, sometimes awful capacity for people to survive ordeals.

So as I read this story, I could buy its premise despite its over-the-top quality. I am not a stranger to the concept of ordeals.

In addition, Jack isn't just confronting Luther. She's trying to come to grips with a proposal from Phin. To marry, that is. Jack has all these issues. Control issues. Commitment issues. Independence issues. "Hey, guy. You're not the boss of me." Blah, blah ...

Anyway, Jack's got this alien life form growing inside her and she feels weird about that. At the same time, she feels protective of the unborn child. Plus she loves Phin and doesn't want to lose him. These plotlines create more layers of tension within the story and support the good vs. evil theme of the book.

Besides, Jack is so freaking funny. And she and Harry McGlade get to trade some of the book's best banter.

To put it in a nutshell, Jack must defend herself, her unborn child and her closest friends from her worst nemesis, a man determined to take her straight to hell. Smart, snappy and darkly humorous, STIRRED is a thriller that moves faster than a rifle shot, deftly combining the absurd with the grotesque.

Oh, and did I forget to mention Lucy and Donaldson? Two crippled and mutilated sociopaths bound by the desire to avenge themselves against Jack. They end up insinuating themselves into the story and, inadvertently, into Luther's plans. They're a match truly made in hell. But can two sociopaths find true love?

Is it really a spoiler to say Jack prevails? Even so, the book ends with a twist I never saw coming.

PS: If ebooks came with soundtracks, this song would be most appropriate.

PPS: Harry McGlade wins the award for having the funniest lines ever during a torture scene!

PPPS: Um ... falling down stairs while attached to bar stools and only suffering bumps and bruises? Seriously? :)

PPPPS: This story has a familiar ring. No, er, pun intended.

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