Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

On the Line, by S. J. Rozan, hardcover, $24.99 (c2010)

S. J. Rozan does the unusual: She has a series that alternates between the viewpoints of her two main characters. Both are usually done in first person narrative. I look forward to the Lydia Chin stories more than the Bill Smith ones, and this book is an example of why.

Lydia has been kidnapped by Kevin Cavanaugh, a psychotic killer whom Bill sent to prison years ago. Kevin devises a convoluted, devilish series of clues as part of a "game" for Bill to get Lydia back. Remember, why Kevin wants to torture Bill doesn't have to make sense because Kevin is psychotic. Each new challenge has Bill repetitively cursing up a blue streak. Lydia's narrative power is stronger and her vocabulary more varied. Another reason to like her stories better. Nevertheless, Bill bulls his way through the puzzles, each time narrowly missing arrest. Of course, one of the "rules" of Kevin's game is "no cops," but they become hard to avoid after the first dead body shows up. Mary Kee, Lydia's best friend (besides Bill) and police detective, becomes involved and walks a hair's breadth line between legal and extra-legal help. Lydia's young nephew, Linus (as in Pauling, not "Peanuts"), and his friend, Trella, are the technical whizzes. A Chinese pimp and his strongarms sometimes help and sometimes hurt (a lot).

On the face of it, this is very much the kind of book I find entertaining. It's fast-paced, brain-teasing, and with interesting characters. But Bill was too much of a one-note this time, and it was distracting. Also, towards the end Linus uses Twitter and other social media as part of his investigation. One minute he's being pinged like crazy with info, then suddenly it stops (at a convenient story point). In real life, dontcha know, it's hard to stop the media flood once the gates are opened. There still should have been excessive pinging, but fictionally, all we get is silence and the silence was deafening. (I've already admitted many times that I'm too easily overcome by internal inconsistencies in author's fictional worlds. My bad.)

Rozan is still one of the best creators of interesting characters with solid voices. I loved nerdy Linus and Trella, a more socialized version of Lizbeth Salander of "Girl Who" fame, and, Dude (Linus' favorite word), they tipped the balance in favor of this book.

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