Jan Burke

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


(Reviewed by Judi Clark FEB 17, 2001)

"Flight by Jan Burke

Ten years earlier, Detective Philip Lefebvre received an anonymous tip that mobster Whitey Dane had paid for a hit to happen on his fishing vessel, the Cygnet. He and Detectives Rosario and Hitch stake out Dane's empty slip when Lefebvre notices "rats with wings," as he calls seagulls, hovering around a beauty of a sailboat moored illegally at a bait shop. When they go to check out the boat, they discover blood and a man lying near the hatch. Looking down the companionway there's the body of a young teenage girl. With a sense of urgency, Lefebvre checks further and finds a teenage boy trapped behind the door of the head. The boy is still alive, though barely, and Lefebvre reflexively goes into protective mode, willing, or better put, begging the boy to live.

Lefebvre goes so far as to keep vigilance over Seth, night and day, until he becomes conscious. With Lefebvre's reputation as a top investigator, his peers initially think he's just waiting to interview the victim. But this goes deeper. There's a hint that Lefebvre is trying to make right for some misfortune with another young man in his past. Whatever the cause, the result is that Lefebvre and Seth are forming a deep bond. One which seems to annoy the other detectives despite the apparent positive outcome in which Seth reveals that it was "a pirate" that attacked his family. Whitey Dane is well known for wearing an eye patch and this one piece of information seems to tie Dane to the murder. Finally the Las Piernas Police Department have a reason to bring Whitey Dane in.

"Golden boy" Phil Lefebvre has a reputation as a loner within the police department. Not only does he not join in the good old boy network, he doesn't even work with a partner like most cops do. So it's natural that although they may respect him, his peers don't exactly like him or more accurately, they are jealous of him. Lefebvre on the other hand is realizing that he can't trust someone within the department and that the killer may not actually be Whitey Dane. As Lefevbre's behavior becomes more restrained, his peers become more resentful until the mistrust results in two more deaths: that of Lefebvre and Seth.

Ten years later, Detective Frank Harriman is handed the investigation of Lefebvre's death when Lefebrvre's single engine Cesna is found in the San Bernardino Mountains. He's also given the files for the still open Randolph family murder cases, precisely because he was not a member of the Las Piernas police force at the time that Phil Lefebvre went missing. The Las Piernas detectives believe that Whitey Dane paid Lefebvre to murder Seth, the only witness in his trial, and that Lefebvre flew his plane out of the country and was living high somewhere in South America. The idea that such a reputable cop could be bought out so easily, is so despicable that the other detectives don't want to see this embarrassment brought to the public again. Moreover, the myth is so ingrained after ten years that it pains anyone to even say Lefebvre's name. Just as Lefebvre was ostracized while working the Randolph case, Frank Harriman finds himself alone. He sees that the facts aren't adding up the way other detectives would like him to believe. And like Phil Lefebvre, evidence points to something crooked within the Las Piernas police force. Just how many, who and how high up the chain is the question that Harriman needs to answer without finding himself with same fate as Lefebvre.

Jan Burke makes a couple departures from her normal sleuth series which features Irene Kelly, the Las Piernas Express crime reporter. Flight features her husband Frank Harriman and is told in the third person rather than the first person. Both of these changes in style work well and shows Burke's true versatility as a writer. Since she has already firmly established the imaginary Southern California town of Las Piernas and the circle of friends and associates in which Irene and Frank operate, it's like shifting the camera on the playing field to get another view of the game. When one writes in first person the writers gives you only the characters viewpoint, what that character sees, hears, touches, wants and remembers. And that is the only information that the reader is given. This is the least complicated style of writing in a sleuth novel for keeping everyone guessing. Third person novels can be similar when they give the viewpoint of just one character. The trickiest to write, especially for this genre, are third person viewpoints with multiple character views. And this is what Jan Burke accomplishes with Flight.

Jan Burke gives us many viewpoints in Flight all necessary to the story, each adding in their own element of suspense, some occasionally throwing us a red herring, but none so blatant as to give away the killer's identity before its time. Using the third person narrative, we experience the actual events of that fateful night on the Amanda. We know there is a character who calls himself the "Looking Glass Man" and is responsible for these and other crimes. We observe his personal habits giving us a litmus test to hold up to other characters to see if they are this mysterious Looking Glass Man. We also know all of Lefebvre's activities including his last and final flight, so there is no doubt in our mind of his innocence. This is key to the novel since there are so many against him, it is important for the reader (and Harriman) to be rooting for him. Obviously, we also have Detective Harriman's view as he makes his way through the evidence of the past and the currently evolving events. Of course, while you're reading the novel all of this switching back and forth, between character views, is transparent. The novel flows, maintaining the suspense and mystery of the "whodunit" right up until the very end.

Note to Irene Kelly mystery fans: Burke does switch to Irene's viewpoint here and there. Irene may not be telling the story, nor is she directly involved, but she sure does sneak in at one point and gives us all one of those scares about her safety and well being that I gather she is prone to do.

There is one other thing that I really liked about Flight and that is that Lefebvre is a French Canadian, which is a bit unusual for a Californian based novel. Given that I am from New Hampshire, the French Canadians have always been a major ethnic group in my life. Unfortunately, when I was young I somehow got the notion that I should be embarassed that my grandfather was French Canadian. Anytime a novelist can highlight an ethnic group and treat them fairly for their uniqueness goes a long way to creating open minds. Besides, I like seeing the kind of name I grew up with in school. Can you say Lefebvre?

  • Amazon reader rating: from 22 review


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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:


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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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