|C. J. Songer: Hook|
(Hardcover), ISBN 0684850435
In fact, briefly donning my responsible reviewer's hat, I should warn you that some people shouldn't read this book. If you only like cozies, don't let the feminine gender of Songer or her main character mislead you. Like Bait, first in Songer's series featuring ex-cop Meg Gillis, Hook hits the ground running and never stops. You should also pass if you hate having your action polluted with complex characterization, moral dilemmas, and other grownup stuff. And if you don't like strong, independent female protagonists, don't walk away from this book, run like hell.
Now that we've scared away the wimps and male chauvinist dinosaurs, I confess I hesitate to call Meg a strong, independent woman. Don't lump her in with cardboard heroines who are not only as tough as the guys but tough like the guys. Meg deserves better; she's too real.
Strong but not invulnerable, smart but not infallible, the proud and stubborn Meg won't give up when she knows she's right -- or back down when she realizes she's dead wrong. I really like her when I don't want to shake some common sense into her. Half the time I felt eerily at home looking through her eyes. Then Meg would do something crazy, fueled by the half street-wise, half paranoid, ex-cop mentality Songer portrays so vividly. But instead of breaking the spell, the insanity only drew me further in.
Take the scene where Meg preps to serve divorce papers on a wealthy Latin American businessman in a ritzy Beverly Hills eatery. In her shoes, I suspect I'd think of something a lot less risky than sashaying in dressed like a high-priced call girl. But after watching Meg gear up for the job -- putting on a tight dress, four-inch heels, and too much makeup, falling back into the mindset of a cop on an undercover operation -- OK, she sold me.
And then there's Meg's relationship with homicide cop Joe Reilly. Does the world really need another female sleuth paired with a sexy male cop? Hell, yes, if they give off this much heat. And don't expect the typical coy minuet with cop boyfriend dropping critical clues while paying lip service to keeping his girlfriend out of the action. Reilly isn't the sensitive, politically correct mate most fictional women detectives attract. Yes, he respects Meg's abilities, but he lives by the traditional "me cop, you civilian" code. But just when you decide Meg must be crazy to stay in this minefield of a relationship, Songer blindsides you with the intensity of Meg and Reilly's sexual and emotional attraction. Their relationship comes across as messy, intoxicating, problematic -- and undeniably real.
In fact, "real" sums up what I liked about Hook -- the way you feel what it's really like to be Meg Gillis, ex-cop, caught in a nightmare when a routine job turns into a homicide case. That and the way Meg, with her rough edges, emotional baggage and prickly moral code, brings the best elements of the traditional Hammett/Chandler down-these-mean-LA-streets brand of PI novel into a new century and gives it a whole new life. C.J. Songer, wherever you are, you'd better be working on book three.
Donna Andrews is the author of Murder with Peacocks, which won the St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Award in May 1998. Her second book in the Meg and Michael series, Murder with Puffins, will be released this spring.
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