It takes a certain kind of mystery or crime thriller to hold my complete attention. The cookie cutter plot lines of James Patterson make me laugh every time I see him hanging out on the New York Times Bestseller list. I enjoyed the occasional Mary Higgins Clark or John Grisham back in my high school days, but even they don’t do it for me today. Thomas Harris has always been a fav, but he’s written all of five books in three decades. These days author Gillian Flynn has me screeching like a vamp crazed teen girl every time a new book comes out, but again, three books in six years.
In between, I take some pleasure in reading good solid mysteries that indie authors are putting out these days, such as Alan Brenham’s Price of Justice. They may lack a certain depth when it comes to narration, and may copy the plot structure of any CSI or Law and Order Episode verbatim, but good writing and strong characters speak for themselves and keep me reading. And Mr. Brenham can definitely write.
In Price of Justice, detective Jason Scarsdale has just lost his wife in a car accident. He’s having trouble balancing his case load with the need to be a good father for his five year old daughter, Shannon. Unfortunately, his latest case involves a ring of child porn hustlers led by a masked ruffian that calls himself the CEO, so Jason is a bit uncomfortable but is determined to seek justice.
When Shannon becomes close to Dani Mueller, a crime analyst in Jason’s office, some of his personal tension is relieved, until it’s revealed that Dani has a hidden past of her own and she could be linked to the death of two pedophiles. Jason questions whether or not he can trust Dani, but he also needs her to help him crack the case.
A crooked police commander who wants Jason gone, a connection in jail that won’t talk without a deal, Jason’s unsympathetic mother-in-law dragging him into court, a determined vigilante, there’s plenty of subplots to really drive the story and keep the pages turning. Mr. Brenham does an excellent job of building tension throughout the layers of his story. I was constantly trying to stay one step ahead by figuring out what would happen next; sometimes I was right and sometimes I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
The author does use one device that can be very tricky, but can also be very effective if pulled off well. He mixes a first person and third person narrative. The chapters told from Dani’s perspective are through her eyes in first person, but the chapters from Jason or anyone else’s POV is in third person. It works very well in Brenham’s favor and makes Dani a very interesting and likable character. I thoroughly enjoyed being inside her head.
As I said before, the structure of the everyday mystery is one that fans of the genre all know inside and out. It’s the characters, both sympathetic and unsympathetic, that have to drive a good detective story these days. Price of Justice definitely has both, which makes it a good solid mystery, with some dark undertones, that a solid fan of the genre is sure to enjoy.
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Shannon Yarbrough lives in St. Louis, Missouri and is the author of two self-published books: The Other Side of What published in 2003 and Stealing Wishes published in 2009. He is also the founder and lead reviewer for The LL Book Review and is currently working on another book.