Monday, September 1, 2008

Angel's Tip - Alafair Burke

Ripped from the headlines...Chelsea Hart is an Indiana University student in New York City on spring break. She and her friends are out at a trendy night club on their last night in town. It's late and her friends are trying to pry her away from the club so they can go back to their hotel and maybe grab a couple hours sleep before having to catch a flight back to Indiana. Chelsea, however, doesn't want to leave yet so she talks her friends into returning to the hotel without her. She insists she'll be ready to catch the plane with them. It's a deadly decision. Chelsea isn't seen alive again.

Ellie Hatcher is one of the first to find Chelsea when she and her brother Jess are out for a morning run. Ellie is back in NYC and back with the homicide department, this time as an official detective IN the department. She calls her new partner J.J. Rogan and tells him to get to the crime scene, they've just snagged a murder investigation.

All seems great in NYC when a suspect is arrested and an air-tight case appears to be in order. Everyone is happy given the PR nightmare this incident had written all over it. But in the process of the investigation, Ellie discovers three cold cases her old partner Flann McIlroy had been looking into. Cases he believed were connected...and cases that look eerily similar to the Chelsea Hart case. Does Ellie rock the boat by bringing these cases to the attention of the D.A. or does she sit quietly and chance convicting the wrong person?

Alafair Burke is back in prime form! She hit another Ellie Hatcher homerun with Angel's Tip, the follow-up to Hatcher's debut in Dead Connection. Like Harlan Coben, Burke is a master of "imitating life." I love the pop culture allusions that weave throughout the plot. And, I may be a little biased because they are all ones that I can identify - Ellie and I are definitely from the same era. When one of the college students makes reference to Zak Efron and Ellie says, "And I would know him from where?" I had to laugh out loud. I felt the same sentiment the first time I heard my niece gush all over him.

In Dead Connection I was immediately able to identify with the on-line dating scene, having experienced some of it myself. The nightlife, club scene in Angel's Tip, however, is one that is very foreign to me. BUT, Burke had me connecting with Ellie because that wasn't her scene either. I could FEEL her discomfort at wearing clothes that just weren't HER. And while she was harassed by her brother and partner for her lack of fashion sense, "'Right, because you've got your finger on the pulse of fashion,'" she could probably still one-up me in that arena! The line about "pulling a Britney" was priceless! Ellie was also astounded at the money spent and the behavior of the party people. I'm right there with you, Ellie!

The introduction of J.J. Rogan was a fantastic addition to the series. J.J. is a fun and rich character - and I'm not talking about his inheritance either. It's refreshing to have two relatively young, intelligent professionals working together - of opposite genders - who have great chemistry that doesn't necessitate jumping in the sack.

Both Ellie and J.J. have such a realistic passion about their jobs as police detectives. The way Burke illustrates this passion you would think she was a New York City detective herself. I was especially struck when Ellie remembered a lesson she learned from her father about dealing with the families of victims:

And, although she didn't realize it at the time, she'd learned from those stories. On that particular day, she'd learned never to use the past tense. Even after delivering the news to the family. Even after the official ID. Even after the body's in the ground. Until the family starts using the past tense, everyone else must remain in the present.

What an amazing insight into humanity. And through whose eyes, other than those of a police officer, would you have access to that insight?

Another point of realism that reminded me of how "unreal" television can portray police work came when Ellie took off running after a suspect. J.J. was screaming for her to stop. She didn't have a protective vest on; she didn't know if the suspect was armed; they didn't have back-up - that wasn't correct procedure. Yet, we see that every night on the crime dramas and we expect it. But the "correct procedure" sure does make a lot of sense. I always feel like I've learned something after reading a book by Alafair Burke. This point also reminded me why I like Ellie so much - she's human. She makes mistakes in the heat of the moment; rookie mistakes, if you will. But she's also accountable for her mistakes. She doesn't need some Superman to come save her. There's even a point where the young ADA is with Ellie and she tells him she doesn't need a protector, he can go home. He informs her that he's there for HER to protect HIM! Priceless!

All of this excellent character development and realism sets the scaffolding for a fantastic plot. There are twists and turns at every chapter. While at one point in the novel I suspected the culprit, Burke threw in so many twists that I ended up constantly oscillating trying to guess who the real killer was, "well, it can't be HIM because..." "hmmm, maybe it's HIM..." "then again, it could be...".

Thrillers like Angel's Tip are the only roller coaster rides I enjoy. I'd line up again and again to experience Alafair Burke's kind of thrill! Outstanding!!


Kay September 1, 2008 at 9:31 AM  

Thanks for a great review! I am looking forward to this one, but being the stickler for order that I am, I have to read DEAD CONNECTION first. Again, great review!

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