I may not be a woman who can literally kick butt but I certainly love to read about women who can. So when I read the publisher’s short description for Cuts Like a Knife, Book #1 in a new detective mystery series by publishing veteran Mark K. (M.K.) Gilroy, I knew it was probably going to be my kind of novel. After reading it, I was shocked to learn it was a debut novel. Gilroy’s writing feels effortless, as if he had been doing this for decades.
Police detective Kristen Connor grew up in Chicago. Her dad was a cop who died in the line of duty. When she joined the force, a lot of the old timers adopted her because they’d promised her dad they’d look out for her. She’s known most of them since she was a little kid, so that makes the force feel like home.
“I don’t think I have a major anger issue, even if I do have a temper. Despite what my mom says. But lately, I admit, I get mad at people pretty easily. Too easily. Dad said I’d grow out of it but I wonder if it’s an occupational hazard.”
Kristen’s feeling the heat at work because she’s screwed a few things up and some of the powers that be aren’t her biggest fans. Bad combination. Still she’s really good at what she does, even if she isn’t the best shot in the world. She loves what she does and she wouldn’t give it up for anything. She might have been a little, ahem, overly energetic in the way she handled a suspect recently. Let’s just say that she has a few anger issues she needs to work out in more productive ways than by taking them out on perps.
“…twenty minutes before the end of shift, my boss…called me into his office. He let me know that Jared, the punk, felt his civil rights were violated by the ‘excessive force’ of my grinding his face into the ground. Excessive force? Jared better hope I don’t get to spend time alone with him in an interview room.
Once the phrase ‘excessive force’ is added to your personnel file, the CO has the option to immediately suspend you with or without pay pending further review, which Zaworski didn’t do…Internal Affairs will be called in to investigate me…IA is not your best friend under any circumstances.”
While she’s sort of together in her professional life, Kristen’s a mess when it comes to her personal life. As tough as she is at work, she’s a real softie personally. The best example: She has a boyfriend who she knows isn’t right for her but she just doesn’t have the heart to get rid of him. It doesn’t help that her sisters seem to have the perfect life, exactly what their parents would have wanted for their daughters. Her younger sister is a glamorous TV reporter while her older sister is just plain perfect. Even though Kristen doesn’t want to get married, or be on TV, she’s envious of both of them. They just seem to have it all figured out, unlike her. And as long as we’re talking about family, Kristen would do anything for her seven-year-old niece, Kendra, who she adores. She coaches Kendra’s soccer team, the Snowflakes, which, with her bum knee, is about the only way she can get really close to the sport she loves any more.
A very successful professional woman is murdered horribly in her own home and Kristen gets assigned to the case. The killer was remarkably thorough in covering his tracks, so much so that the police have no clues they can use to begin to track this guy down. Whoever murdered this young woman seemed to be very good at eliminating evidence. That sends up a red flag that it might not be his first murder.
‘Captain Zaworski passes crime scene photos around the room. A very pretty girl in the alive photos; a very disfigured girl in the dead shots. No details were given on the radio. Good thing. She died at the hands of someone very nasty and very good with a knife. Nope, no jokes today.”
The FBI becomes involved immediately. It seems this murder is remarkably like murders that have been committed for over a decade in different parts of the country. Congrats Chicago, a serial killer has come to town. Kristen is assigned to the team working with the FBI to track down this guy and bring him in. Even the feds have little that can help because the killer is phenomenally intelligent, crafty and thorough. He always seems to be several moves ahead of them.
“’The second our initial report hit the data ports, a red flag went up in DC, at FBI headquarters. They’ve tagged a guy with a very sophisticated and extensive crime pattern. He’s been killing lots of people and moving to new cities for a number of years now. They think he’s been a member of our community for the past six months, getting ready for his first victim in Chicago, and a good number to follow. Sandra Reed may have been the first, not last.’” [Captain Zaworski]
Every time they think they’re getting close to finding this killer, he outsmarts them again. The frustration is making them all nuts. They’ve got to stop this guy! As the body count rises in Chicago, it’s decided that Kristen and others on the team will go undercover to attend AA meetings where the FBI knows the killer has met some of his past victims. It’s a stretch for Kristen since she doesn’t drink, and can’t lie worth a damn, so she substitutes her anger issues for alcohol as a way to try to appear more authentic. Has Kristen just painted a great big bullseye on herself?
Kristen and her loving, dysfunctional family life make for a great centerpiece for this new series. She’s the kind of character I can envision having as a friend and wanting to read about for many books to come. Although I didn’t really tell you anything about Kristen’s cohorts on the police force, or the FBI, they are also very interesting and fun people who I look forward to getting to know even better in future books. There’s even a love interest for all of you who like a little romantic tension with your mystery. All in all, this is a cast of characters who you’ll love if you’re like me.
Gilroy’s self-professed life-long love of devouring mysteries is very evident in the way he’s crafted his characters and this novel. Unlike a lot of first books in a series, Cuts Like a Knife doesn’t get bogged down in exposition. Yay! Although it is as much character driven as plot driven, it moves at the kind of breakneck speed I like in a mystery/thriller. There is also enough humor and family dynamics injected into the main and ancillary storylines that those deflect some of the tension at exactly the right places. One small caution: Because the murders are of a ritualistic psycho-sexual nature, this novel may not be for the very squeamish. Still, I enjoyed every minute of this intense roller coaster ride, even the parts that scared the *bleep* out of me.
Can’t wait to read it?
Cuts like a Knife was released on April 3, 2012, so it should be available at your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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