Jan Burke

Irene Kelly - Newspaper Reporter - Las Piernas, California
Frank Harriman - Police Detective and Irene Kelly's husband - Las Piernas, California

(Jump down to read a review of Dear Irene)


(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie MAR 27, 2005)

"If you kill your enemy, he's dead. He's not feeling another thing. But if you kill the people he loves and hide the bodies - you kidnap them and never let them be found - then you make him wonder if they're alive or dead, if he'll ever see them again. He starts to think about what might be happening to them. That way your enemy suffers all his life. nothing you could do to him is worse than that. Nothing."

Bloodlines' storyline, its characters, and the heinous crimes which mar their lives with so much suffering, span three generations. This novel will introduce you to some fascinating individuals. You will read their compelling stories, watch them play-out, and see how they connect, like pieces of some great puzzle designed by a psychopathic sadist. This is a tale of murder most foul, blackmail, psychological torture, fear and more murder. Jan Burke creates three-dimensional evil here. It lives and breathes in one of her characters - a man she constructs of paper and ink on the printed page, who brings out my own childhood terrors of the dark and monsters who lurk beneath the bed - a terrifying malevolent golum of a human being. I've known a lot of fictional villains, and this one is grim indeed. He permeates the story with a sinister presence and leaves everyone, including the reader, with a sense of foreboding that lingers after the book's conclusion.

I had never read an Irene Kelly mystery before, nor anything else by Jan Burke. I am fortunate that I began here, late in the series, because this novel goes back to Ms. Kelly' youth, where she begins as a reporter for the Las Piernas News Express. So now that I plan to read the entire series, I have had the opportunity to know her initially, as a young girl and professional. However, the beginning of the story does not take place in the spring of 1978, when Irene accepts a job at the Express, covering hard news. The story begins in January 1958.

On January 4, 1958, Jack Corrigan, veteran reporter for the News Express, is almost killed after he is abducted from a cocktail party, severely beaten, and left for dead in the swamps near Las Piernas. Upon first regaining consciousness, he witnesses the burial of a bloodstained car in a farmer's field. He understands that he is hung-over, in pain, and concussed. However, in any state, he surely knows when he is seeing suspicious activity. With the little strength he has left, he investigates to make sure he is not hallucinating. The man driving the tractor sees him from a distance, and someone comes back to the scene to make sure Jack will never investigate again. The next day he is discovered, crawling out of the wetlands, looking and smelling like death. And he almost is - dead.

That same night, a luxury yacht is lost during a storm at sea off the Las Piernas coast. Two bodies wash up within a short period. They were the Ducanes, a very wealthy couple and the boat's owners. Another couple was apparently on board with them - their son Todd and his young wife, Katy, who just celebrated her 21st birthday. Their bodies were never recovered and it was assumed, for lack of other evidence, that they also drowned. There was no sign of a struggle anywhere on the boat. Katy and Todd's infant son was kidnapped that evening also. There were no ransom phone calls or letters. In fact no one was able to obtain information or clues leading to the whereabouts of the child. The nanny, who was caring for him, was found murdered in the nursery. Corrigan knew the baby's parents well, and had known Katy and adored her since her own infancy. She called him Uncle Jack and left everything to him in her will. Needless to say, he was heartbroken, when he was well enough to hear the news.

Twenty years later, in 1978, Irene Kelly comes to work for the Express, after a stint as a reporter in Bakersfield. Connor O'Connor, who had been Jack's protege, student, foster son and best friend since 1936, when he was an 8 year-old paperboy, now mentors Irene. The 1958 murders and kidnapping have never been solved. Rookie reporter Irene is sent out to cover the groundbreaking of a new shopping mall, and discovers something much bigger. The construction crew at the site uncovers a buried car containing human remains. O'Connor decides to work the story with Irene. She was there when the car was unearthed, asked the right questions and deals well with the difficult detective in charge of the case.

Bloodlines explores the complex relationship between many of the characters who are first introduced in 1936, including the strong bond between Corrigan and O'Connor. There's another secondary but important mystery that began in the 1940s, when Conn's beloved sister, Maureen, was murdered. The mentor-protege relationship continues between Conn and Jack into the 1950s, however they're more like friends and colleagues. They work closely together, especially after Jack's beating. Then Conn mentors the young Irene in the 1970s and passes along what he had learned as they pick up more clues about the crimes committed in 1958. The book's last segment is set in 2000, when all loose string are masterfully tied off.

Jan Burke also explores here the history of the newspaper industry and the changes brought about with the growing popularity of television. Her writing is taut, her pace fast and fluid, and her characters are most original and likeable. She gives them depth, which along with a spellbinding narrative, makes this novel a real keeper. A definite 5 star recommendation!

  • Amazon reader rating: from 24 review


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"Dear Irene"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer APR 2, 2003)

Dear Miss Kelly,

You will always be the first to know, because you will be my Cassandra. Who will believe you? I will.

The time has come for us to begin.

The first Olympian will fall on Thursday. The Hammer of Hephaestus will strike her down and the eyes of Argus will be upon her remains.

Clio will be the first to die.

Forgive me my riddles, but it must be so. Soon you will be able to see the truth of it, Cassandra, but who will believe you?

Your beloved,


>Irene Kelly is used to receiving kooky letters...everything from people wanting to write the theme song for the city she lives in, Las Piernas, to a person who insists her dog can predict the outcome of the super bowl. So, she is unsettled by the receipt of the letter from Thanatos, but not worried. She talks to Jack, who has called to let her know that he’s going to come pick her up. (Even though Irene Kelly is a really likable woman, she seems to be a magnet for the diabolically insane...in her last adventure she was beaten badly, and is still in a foot cast.) She remembers that he’s something of an expert in Greek myth, and uses his knowledge to figure out the meanings of the clues...who the mythical Clio is, the significance of Argus’ eyes...but it is too late for a history professor, whose dead body is found the next Thursday night in a peacock’s cage. Soon Irene receives another letter...one that promises a horrible death by starvation to the victim, and Irene Kelley works hard to discover the newest chosen's identity. Along the way she discovers clues, clues that do not make sense...but she knows she has to hurry, for it is only a matter of time before Thanatos, death, comes to claim his beloved.

The main mystery is fairly good...I was kept guessing to pretty much the end. I loved the idea of the letters...not just because I’m a myth junkie, trying to figure out the translation, but because it makes for a creepy twist.

Irene Kelley is a fabulous character. She's smart and determined, but not heartless. Her relationship with Frank Harriman who makes his living, as, of all things, a police detective, creates some interesting undercurrents. Reporters and police don’t exactly have the best track record of being friends, and the politics involved, the intricacies between what they can say to each other at home and what they can’t, creates some tensions that ground the relationship and the book. I’ve read a couple other books in this series, and I love how they interlock. Everything changes, everything moves forward, even the wonderful, interesting subcharacters, such as Jack and Lydia, who evolve just as much as their main and ostensibly more important counterparts.

But that doesn’t mean you have to read them in order...I certainly haven’t. This is a reissue of a book that originally came out in 1995. The fact that this one has the same strength, same depth of quality of all her works shows that Jan Burke is a steady, consistent talent.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 7 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Irene Kelly Mysteries:

Frank Harriman (Irene Kelly's husband) Mysteries:


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Book Marks:

  • Official website for Jan Burke
  • BooknBytes.com interview with Jan Burke
  • The Mystery Reader review of Liar
  • The Mystery Reader review of Bones
  • MostlyFiction.com review of Flight
  • MostlyFiction.com review of Nine


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About the Author:

Jan BurkeJan 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.

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