Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Monkeewrench, by P.J. Tracy

P.J. Tracy
ISBN: 0-451-21157-x
Book #07-008

Grace McBride and her partners in Monkeewrench are a group of computer whizzes who have created the game, Serial Killer Detective, despite the objections of one of their members. The game is in limited release, allowing players the chance to try it out and giving the Monkeewrench crew a last chance to tinker with it. When a couple of murders make the headlines, Grace realizes that someone is using her game as a prototype in real life. Now the Monkeewrench group must make a decision: Do they tell the police what they know and risk being put at the top of the suspects list, or do they keep their suspicions to themselves and take the chance that the killer won't finish the other eighteen scenarios?

Leo Magozzi is the primary detective on the Monkeewrench murders. All evidence to the contrary, he believes Grace is not the killer, but his frustration mounts as more people are murdered and the Monkeewrench gang protect their firewall of silence. When a pair of homicides in Wisconsin seems to tie in with the murders in Minneapolis, and everything traces back to long-forgotten records, Magozzi turns to the most unikely source of help in cracking the paperwork logjam: the Monkeewrench gang themselves.

Grace's partners are an interesting group, whose loyalty to McBride is unwavering. There's Roadrunner, a lycra-clad pencil of a man; Mitch, married to an up-and-coming artist; Harley Davidson, the bearded biker; and Annie, two hundred pounds of glamour and sex appeal on the hoof. P.J. Tracy juggles the characters deftly, honoring their individuality without ever losing sight of the fact that Grace is the cog of the Monkeewrench wheel. As the story hurtles toward its climax, readers are treated to a bravura demonstration of literary sleight-of-hand in which the possible killer's identity seems to shift as rapidly as images in a hall of mirrors.

MONKEEWRENCH is the first novel by mother-daughter writing team P. J. Tracy, but its taut, sleek writing indicates superb mastery. Tracy handles the large cast of characters with assurance, maintaining a tantalizing balance of humor and suspense that keeps pages turning in rapid abandon. The premise of the novel is deeply original in its execution, and the suspects are just as interesting as the detectives. As the reveals come quick and fast in the latter half of the book, readers will find it utterly impossible to put the book down and will resent anything that comes between them and the solution to this convoluted roller-coaster of a thriller.

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