Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:
J. A. KONRATH – Rusty Nail. Hyperion, hardcover, 2006; softcover, 2007.
I have said it before and will reiterate, I have had it with serial killers. I just don’t read or buy serial killer books. In fact, the only reason I picked this one up was because Publisher’s Weekly described it as a “cross between Carl Hiaason and Thomas Harris.”
That, I admit, piqued my curiosity, and since it was a Dollar Store Wonder what could I lose? I could afford to risk 109 pennies (with tax).
The heroine of this series is Lieutenant Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Daniels, second generation Chicago homicide cop, age 46, looks younger, dresses nice by shopping smart, and has a self confessed smart mouth. Her life isn’t looking all that good either. Her mother, the first generation homicide cop, is in a hospice facility in a coma Jack blames herself for. Her partner, Herb Benedict, her strong right had and friend is about to discover he has a tumor from his colonoscopy. She screwed up the relationship with the man she loved, and he has someone new. And there is a copycat killer following the path of Phil Kork, the serial killer whose capture made her famous, in fact, a little too famous.
A big part of her problem is sexist and none-too-bright Harry McGlade. Harry was a private eye who helped her catch Kork and parlayed it into fame for both of them. Something the department is none to happy about:
“The superintendent has been getting some flack lately about that TV show.”
“That series with the PI and the fat woman who plays you.”
The series is called Fatal Autonomy, and it has made Harry McGlade rich and Jack miserable. Whenever she introduces herself to anyone they comment she has lost weight. They can’t separate her from her job, and she can’t separate herself from Harry. He even wants her to be his ‘best man’ at his wedding.
Worse still, the woman he is marrying, Holly, is a Barbie doll private eye, younger than Jack, smart, a fine markswoman, black belt, and to add insult to injury sincere, friendly, and despite Jack’s best — or worst — efforts, determined to be friends and help catch the copycat killer. She even saves Jack’s life. How dare she?
There is also her cat, Mr. Friskers, who doesn’t seem to like her, but her Mother loves him; her lack of a sex life; and the fact it seems the serial killer is seeking revenge on Jack and everyone who was involved in catching and killing Phil Kork, including everyone and everything Jack loves.
Jack is on the trail though, and the hunt will take her through the Mid-West into Kork’s family history and a virtual family reunion of serial killers and mass graves. Meanwhile Konrath introduces us in alternating chapters to Alex, the serial killer behind these murders and from a twisted and shocking history tied to the Kork’s.
Aside from being literally knee deep in rotting corpses, Jack also manages to get shot at, threatened with losing her job, and seriously singed in a fire. It’s enough to make a girl wear cheap sensible shoes to work — a real trial for the fashion and name brand conscious Jack.
If you haven’t caught on yet that comparison to Carl Hiaason and Thomas Harris was accurate. The serial killer is a monster, and graphically, if never exploitatively, described — it’s all Jack can do to keep from ruining a few crime scenes. What balances that is Jack is smart, attractive, good company, a genuinely good detective, and best of all, fall out of the chair and roll on the floor funny. Slight smiles aren’t her style. Jack is laugh-out-loud funny, and few books get audible chuckles out of me:
His head was bald, but he had bushy white eyebrows long enough to comb, and enough ear hair to stuff a pillow.
The shoes (Dior) were acquired at an outlet store and had been mispriced. I got them for eight bucks. I remember holding my breath when the cashier rang them up, figuring she’d notice. She didn’t. That’s been the high point of my year so far.
He had to be putting me on. No one was this slow outside of Hee Haw.
All play and no work makes Jack a bit flighty.
… a careful mirror examination of my face, studying the wrinkles and deciding I needed nothing short of spackle to fill them in.
Told by the FBI, who are trying to horn in, the obviously copycat murders are copycat murders “… was your first clue the note or that it took place in the same house as the Kork murders?”
Mr. Friskers had his face buried in his bowl. He hissed at my interruption of his gluttony. I hissed back and set the bag on the corner, next to the sink. The cat ran up and swiped a claw at my leg… It was always my left leg. He’d clawed me a dozen times, but never the right leg. Sadism with an agenda.
“Hey, your name is Jack Daniels.”
“That’s me, lightly braised but in the flesh.”
“I like that TV show that you’re in, that Fatal Autonomy. You’re pretty funny. I loved the one where you were screaming and screaming and screaming for help and that private eye guy took off his dirty sock and crammed it in your mouth.”
I gave him a weak smile. “Yeah, good episode.”
Peter chimed in, “My favorite is the one where you tracked down that killer and went to shoot him but forgot to load your gun.” He slapped his leg grinning. “Classic.”
There is a nice twist at the end, not really withheld from the reader, and for once a least likely suspect that has been set up right, and all the subplots stay raveled together for the multiple payoffs.
The titles are all mixed drinks. Rusty Nail, Whisky Sour, Bloody Mary and more. I can say honestly, that serial killer or not, I would read another one, and these days that is praise for any series, serial killers or not. Jack Daniels proves almost as good company as her namesake, and if you stay up all night with her, you can still go to work in the morning and there is no hangover.
One last great line, delivered by Herb’s wife. It turns out Herb didn’t have a tumor, but he did have a heart attack, which Jack has trouble understanding why they didn’t find earlier until Herb’s wife Bernice explains: “It’s hard to diagnose a heart condition by sticking a camera up your ass.”
That sums up Jack’s life and Rusty Nail as well as anything.
The Jack Daniels series -
1. Whiskey Sour (2004)
2. Bloody Mary (2005)
3. Rusty Nail (2006)
4. Dirty Martini (2007)
5. Fuzzy Navel (2008)
6. Cherry Bomb (2009)
7. Shaken (2010)
8. Stirred (2011) (with Blake Crouch)
65 Proof: Jack Daniels and Other Thriller Stories (2009)
Shot of Tequila (2009) [ebook]
Jack Daniels Stories: Fifteen Mystery Tales (2010)
With A Twist (2011) [short story]
Jacked Up! (2013) (with Jack Kilborn and Tracy Sharp) [novella]