I’m not usually a person that keeps track of opening lines, or even pays them particular attention. However, the beginning of Until Death gave me a shiver of anticipation:
“When the meeting finally adjourned at five after nine on a Thursday night, Neal Ballard had twenty-two minutes to live.”
Perfect. The dispassionate language downplays the emotion, but the very phrase “twenty-two minutes to live” ramps it right back up.
I’ve put off reading Until Death because of the awkwardness of reviewing a friend’s work. In an effort at full disclosure, I’ll note I’ve been hanging around James over at ShelfInflicted and on Goodreads for some time. Despite the contact, he’s never offered a copy of the book or requested a review, a reticence I have always appreciated. You see, I tend to be both analytical and honest; more than once, my mouth has landed me in challenging situations. As a matter of fact, I’m currently in trouble for talking in a class, and, no, I am both serious and over forty. Let’s just say my time there is limited. At any rate, I shy away from reviewing friend’s books because I am uncomfortable not being honest, and because I have this drive to review what I read. Whatever. The point is, I hesitated, only trying the book when an Amazon deal came along. I really needn’t have been reluctant; Thane has a gift for writing, evoking images and characters that seem real.
Characters go beyond genre stereotypes. Although they may start at comfortably familiar places, Thane fleshes them out so that they feel unique, real people struggling with negotiating their emotions. For instance, we’re introduced to Detective Sean Richardson in a classic noir situation: “in violation of about fourteen department regulations, I was sitting in the lounge at Voce, working on a second glass of Jameson and listening to the Rachel Eckroth Trio.” Eventually we get to Richardson’s backstory, but by no means does he wear it on his sleeve. His partner, Maggie McClinton, is a classic foul-mouthed spitfire dealing with issues on the home front, but in this case, ‘Issues’ means a pastor boyfriend with children who is seeking greater connection.
Detectives Sean and Maggie catch a case where a man is brutally beaten to death in his garage. Unfortunately, a lack of leads and a plethora of other cases means the Ballard case gradually moves to the back burner. The big break comes the day that Gina Gallagher, a personal trainer, introduces herself to Richardson, hoping to share some crucial information–as long as he doesn’t charge her with prostitution. Gallagher has lost her weekly planner, and both Ballard and another recently dead man were part of her exclusive client list. Suddenly Richardson and McClinton have all sorts of leads to pursue.
Plotting had a number of twists and turns, one of which surprised me. It’s always a pleasure when a mystery writer can avoid telegraphing the solution. My biggest challenge with the story was a few change in perspectives that seemed to be used as a means of building tension. That’s not uncommon in more modern stories–perhaps a sign that authors (and editors?) are catering to reader attention-deficit–but it tends to work against my own preference. In this case, the added perspective was done well enough to add further insight into the characters, not only heightening plot tension. I enjoyed Richardson’s character, particularly his moments at home; the scenes of him listening to jazz while sipping whiskey were so vivid, I felt like I was in the room.
Overall, I recommend it, particularly to fans of J.A. Jance’s Detective J.P. Beaumont. And I won’t be afraid of reading any more of Thane’s books.
Thane’s entertaining interview over at Shelf Inflicted: