First line: "Tanya Abbott noticed the quiver in her index finger as it pressed the three silver buttons in the rain - 9...1...1."
When a classmate directs Megan Gunther to a campus gossip website, she discovers that someone is leaving what she perceives to be threatening messages to her. The anonymous person has posted her schedule, right down to her exercise class. But the police tell Megan and her parents there isn't anything they can do. Empty threats are posted on websites like this one all the time. But these threats don't seem to be empty when Megan ends up dead and her roommate seriously injured.
Meanwhile, real estate agent/high-priced call girl Katie Battle is found tortured to death after leaving for a date/job with a seemingly harmless man. So, when Ellie Hatcher and partner, J.J. Rogan, find a connection between the two women, they start trying to put the pieces together. However, the pieces don't seem to fit right, and then a new piece is thrown into the puzzle when connections to a wealthy New York businessman and a high profile trial judge are unearthed and Megan's injured roommate disappears. Are these pieces all from the same puzzle? And if so, how do they go together? If not, where do they belong?
After a short hiatus, my favorite female crime fighter is back at work, protecting the streets of New York City in Alafair Burke's sixth novel, 212. The title of this book stems from the New York City area code as well as the name of the building where all the book's action originates.
Ellie Hatcher is back with a vengeance. A vengeance that lands her butt squarely in jail. Smart, independent Ellie Hatcher proves to the world everyday that she's far more than a pretty face. She can "bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan." She juggles her job, her older brother Jess, Assistant District Attorney Max Donovan, even her mother back in Wichita. And while she may not be as hip as her brother would like, she still manages to do it all with panache.
Burke's work is the epitome of art imitating life. Her plot lines are "ripped from the headlines;" the characters and dialogue are infused with pop culture; and she brings to life the New York City she so loves. 212 has no shortage of Burke's signature wit, which often comes out in her crisp, commanding dialogue. Ellie's exchanges with both her brother Jess and her partner J.J. could walk off the pages they are so believable. Burke's strengths are numerous, but her dialogue is quite possibly my favorite. In this short excerpt between Ellie and J.J., the reader not only learns about each character, but also the easy relationship that exists between the two of them:
"'Well, being his pal didn't save me from a jail cell. Maybe next time you can be the one who does our time.'
'Nah,' he said, holding open the precinct door for her to exit. 'I'm way too pretty for central holding on some chippy contempt rap. Someone like me goes down, it's got to be major. I would need some serious federal corrections facility - golf course, croquet...'
'Rogan, you were raised in Brooklyn. Do you even know what croquet is?'
'I know it involves a round thing called a ball, which means it's yet another sport a brother could dominate if we only gave it a shot.'
'When you're done, you think you might get around to letting me in?' Ellie tugged on the Crown Vic's locked passenger handle to make her point."
In that exchange, Burke uses the word "said" once. And yet the identity of either speaker is never in question. Dialogue is clear, it's sharp, it's witty. When a reader believes the dialogue, he/she believes the characters delivering it. For my money, no one does this better than Alafair Burke.
The complexity of 212's plot is carefully balanced. Burke peals back layer after layer, creating numerous unexpected twists throughout the book. But the twists never go over the top, nor do they become too numerous for belief. Instead the keep the reader gripped to the pages. I tried to slowly savor this book, but the plot simply wouldn't let me.
In addition, the plot of 212, like each of Burke's previous novels, reflects current events. But more than that, it examines some hefty "why" questions that are floating around these current events as well. And whenever Burke addresses a "why" question in her writing, she illustrates that the answer to that question is never a basic one, like so many people want to make it out to be. Afterall, it's humanity she's addressing, and humanity is certainly never basic. In 212, Burke takes a 348 page back swing allowing her to masterfully stroke her theme straight down the fairway and sink a hole-in-one on the final page. It's a monumental ending, one that won't quickly leave your thoughts.
I waited over a year for Ellie Hatcher to return to action, and 212 was worth every minute of that wait.
212 will be available March 23, 2010 from Harper (ISBN: 978-0-06-156122-1). And Alafair will be out and about promoting it. You can check her schedule here to see if she will be near you. Or if you'd like to get a signed copy of 212, I'm sure most of the bookstores would be happy to accomodate a mail order for you.