BookBin2015: If You Were Here

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It would seem that BookBin2015 is the Year of Alafair Burke here at the lair. I wrote back in June all about discovering Burke’s Detective Ellie Hatcher series and how I had finally found a detective/mystery series that I enjoyed (other than J.K. Rowling’s Robert Galbraith efforts).

Therefore, it was with great joy and gratitude that I discovered If You Were Here, a new-to-me Burke novel, at the B&B we recently stayed at out in California, and was told by one of the staff that I could take the book with me if I liked it enough to want to finish it. Generous B&B is generous.

So in this novel, we meet a new character from Burke’s growing pantheon of strong, inquisitive women: McKenna Jordan, a former NYC ADA who is now a features reporter as a result of making a poorly considered choice early in her legal career that blacklisted her from that profession. In this new role, she comes across an incident in which a woman saved a young man who fell onto the subway tracks right before he was struck by an incoming train, and then bolted from the scene before anyone could identify her. Turns out, the woman was chasing the young man because he had just stolen her phone. It also turns out that McKenna thinks she knows who the woman is: a friend who disappeared nearly a decade ago and had been presumed by police to be dead.

Not one to be put off her gut instinct, McKenna latches on to trying to discover the mystery woman’s identity, which takes McKenna back through the tumultuous events that led to her leaving the ADA’s office and that McKenna realizes might somehow relate to her friend’s disappearance.

It all becomes tightly woven into an intricate pattern that only drops a stitch every now and again. It was a compelling enough story, even if a few times I grimaced at the perfect way certain things aligned. This is ultimately what always pulls me out of a mystery novel: I like coincidence to a point. For certain mysteries to pan out successfully, they require a level of coincidence that I often simply cannot buy into. Those instances in this story were enough to allow me to slip out of the zone of suspended disbelief enough to lose me from its grip.

Final Verdict: While I enjoyed reading the book and greatly appreciate the generosity of the B&B that allowed me to take it with me to finish it, I do believe that I shall be returning this on our next visit. I don’t see the need to keep it, but I think it could make a nice diversion for a future guest.

BookBin2015: Detective Ellie Hatcher Series

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I think I finally did it, denizens. I found a detective series that I like—with caveats, of course. Come on now, it is me who’s writing this. I come with caveats.

And before anyone points out that I have had mostly glowing things to say about J.K. Rowling’s go at sleuthing through her Robert Galbraith nom de plume, I kind of expect a great deal from Rowling as a writer because of my years of exposure to her storytelling style. The fact that I like her mystery novels, I suppose, didn’t really surprise me all that much.

The fact that I so swiftly and thoroughly fell in love with Alafair Burke’s storytelling was a completely delightful surprise to me. I’d never heard of Burke, so when I happened upon All Day and a Night in the local library’s Recently Released section, I tossed it into my stack of books as sort of a “luck of the draw” pick that sounded potentially interesting.

It wasn’t until I was well into this book that I realized it was part of a series based on the lead character, New York City Detective Ellie Hatcher. Burke does a fantastic job of telling a satisfying stand-alone story, with benign-enough mentions to the previous books in the series that I didn’t feel as though I was unable to “get” any part of the story or the characters. However, the hints and the holistically pleasing denouement of this book were enough that I immediately went to the library’s site and tracked down the rest of the series: Dead Connection, Angel’s Tip, 212, and Never Tell.

I roared through all four of the rest of the Ellie Hatcher series in less than a month. I really, really like Ellie Hatcher. I found her to be an interesting filter through which readers approach the various crimes of Burke’s series. I suppose the only major complaint I had was how brutal all the stories are to women. Sort of similar to my ultimate complaint about the primary crimes of The Fall, the recent British detective series that starred Gillian Anderson, it seems almost as if Hatcher’s cases must almost always start with female victims or inevitably include female victims, more often than not of female-specific crimes, be it stalking, sexual assault, abduction, or some really gruesome torture. She lives and works in New York City, FFS. There has got to be some violence going down against some dudes somewhere in her district.

Okay, that’s not completely fair. There are crimes that involve male victims—but they almost seem tangential to the main ring brutality against women. I understand the very real implications that it’s mostly women who become victims of the types of crimes that detective stories want to focus on. If it bleeds, it leads. Or, apparently, entertains.

I know, I’m starting to sound like I didn’t enjoy these books. I honestly did. And I’m definitely on board for reading Burke’s next case for Detective Hatcher. I’m just going to hold out hope that the next one might bear in mind that crime happens to guys, too.

Final Verdict: I actually could see myself going back and re-reading these books and looking for clues that I might have missed along the way (although I’m quite pleased with myself that I was able to suss out the perps before the big reveals…and that I’m now using words like “perps” in my regular writing). I’d also actually like to go back to All Day and a Night and see what things might make more sense to me now that I’ve read all the preceding novels. I could make room in my library for Detective Ellie Hatcher. I also might read some of Burke’s other novels.