(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer OCT 31, 2002)
Years ago Detective Alex Brandon was part of a serial killer investigation whose MO included hanging the victims upside down over a bath tub and draining them of their blood. The murder scene before him now bears similar marks...except that the victim isn't an innocent woman, but a man from the FBI's Most Wanted List, and the number nine is painted in blood on the bathroom mirror. The first suspect in many minds, but not Alex's, is Kit Logan. The original killer was Kit's stepfather, a man who forced Kit to participate in his cruel acts. Kit murdered his stepfather, but was eventually exonerated because of his youth and the circumstances. He was sent to Sedgewick, a reform school where the rich and uncontrollable are sent to be taught some manners. The school figures highly in this book, for as we soon learn, it is here that our circle of killers originate. Under the dominating hand of Everett Corey are a circle of bright, dedicated young men who have graduated high school and are now ready to go onto bigger things. Picking off the uncaught from the ten most wanted list is only part of their plan. But are they vigilantes, or monsters with a much more horrifying agenda? And what is their interest in Kit Logan?
Burke's core talent, at least in this book, is in story weaving. She has all these elements that she manages to twist together to form a cohesive story...elements that seem totally unrelated, but bear a huge impact later. Alex and his partner Ciara are the main focus. They're the ones who are tracking down the clues, trying to find the killers. They have a strange relationship, in that Ciara has an unfortunate way of just blurting whatever smart aleck remark comes into her head. She is not a political person, and her bitter outlook often wears on Alex. They work well together, but only after a conversation with his uncle does he realize that he has to reach out to her more and see the person underneath the hard exterior. His longing for his old partner and his difficulties with his new one is, in some ways, an unusual way for a writer to define a relationship of this sort. Often we encounter either incredible closeness or flat out hate between police partners.
Another aspect of this story weaving is Kit Logan. He knows all along who the killers are, because he saw one kill his dog. He is the legal guardian of a wise cracking, pocket-picking teen with arsonist tendencies who calls herself Spooky. Soon, they set off on a journey, hoping to outwit the people who are after them. Burke handles our introduction to Kit in a very intriguing way. When we first meet him, he is carrying something, maybe the body of an animal. Right away because of his actions, his apologetic manner toward his burden, we kind of begin to like him. Then he says things like, it's not the first body he's buried, he's putting it where it won't be discovered, yet he can find it again...classic tips that make your heart sink a little when you realize that this nice seeming young man is probably the bad guy. The fact that she is able to carry this off in very few words says a lot for Ms. Burke's talent for drawing people and places. She also does some unusual things with Kit...for all intensive purposes, Kit is a survivor of a serial killer. His need for good luck trinkets and his careful superstition, as well as other traits that he carries are a study on the aftermath that such horrors create.
The final aspect, as she weaves this story together, is the Project Nine members. Corey is a charismatic leader and he twists these bright, yet sadistic young men. It says much about how easy it is to be lead down the crooked path. I thought that with positive leadership these men could have been, perhaps not saints, but decent people. These men also exemplify the lives of the easy rich stereotype of California, where the story is placed, setting off Alex Bradon's character neatly, in that he had access to the same money and privilege, but never abused it.
A keen look at people's motivations as well as their struggles, Nine is a well balanced thriller that takes a temptingly desirable occurrence (for who doesn't want to see the predators punished?) and turns it inside out, showing us the possible consequences of such actions.
- Amazon readers rating: from 22 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Nine at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Goodnight, Irene (1993)
- Sweet Dreams, Irene (1994)
- Dear Irene (1995)
- Remember Me, Irene (1996)
- Hocus (1997)
- Liar (1998)
- Bones (1999)
- Bloodlines (2005)
- Kidnapped (2006)
- Disturbance (2011)
Frank Harriman (Irene Kelly's husband) Mysteries:
- Flight (2001)
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- Official website for Jan Burke
- MostlyFiction.com review of Flight
- MostlyFiction.com review of Bloodlines
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About the Author:
Jan Burke was born in Texas, but has lived in Southern California most of her life, often in coastal cities-several of which combine to make up the fictional Las Piernas, where Irene Kelly and her husband Frank Harriman work and live. She comes from a close-knit family, and remains close to not only her parents, her two sisters and brother, but also a wonderful assortment of nephews, nieces, cousins, aunts, and uncles.
She attended California State University, Long Beach, and graduated with a degree in history. Following college, she spent a number of years managing a manufacturing plant. Goodnight, Irene was written during long evenings after work. The completed manuscript was sold unsolicited to Simon and Schuster. She now writes full-time. Her novel Bones won the 2000 Edgar Award for Best Novel.
She and her husband, Tim, share their home with two dogs, Cappy and Britches.