Sunday, December 13, 2009

Doubleback by Libby Fischer Hellmann (2009)

I got a copy of Doubleback (2009), the second of Libby Fischer Hellmann's mystery/suspense books staring Chicago PI Georgia Davis (and the sixth featuring videographer Ellie Foreman) as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I am generally pretty forgiving of mystery novels, and it is possible that Hellman's books need to be read as a series instead of plucking one out of the middle, but this book really did not work for me at all.

The plot is... confusing. Here are the basics: The neighbor of Ellie's friend's little girl Molly is kidnapped. She doesn't want to call the police, because the kidnappers threatened her daughter's life, so she goes to Ellie's friend who calls Ellie for some reason. In a previous book it seems the Ellie and Georgia solved some kind of mystery together, so Ellie calls Georgia. Georgia doesn't want to get involved but (as is repeated multiple times), she has a tender spot in her heart for little children, even though she is emotionally distant from everyone else. Still, she suggests that they go to the police, and then, oddly enough, the little girl is dropped off outside of her house three days later and no one will say what happened. Then the boss of Chris Messenger (the mother) at the bank (did I mention she is the IT director at a bank?) dies in a mysterious car accident and it appears his brake lines were cut. Then the same thing happens to Chris. Chris's ex-husband hires Georgia to figure this all out, which eventually leads to complicated discussions of bank transaction protocols, Blackwater-esque security firms, and drug trafficking on the Arizona/Mexico border. Throw in a couple weird side plots where Georgia gets all dolled up to investigate a high-end dating service that is potentially stealing people's identities and a preachy video-shooting excursion to an ethanol plant in Wisconsin and you have one seriously not-that-great mystery.

Surprisingly, in the midst of all the crappy characters and unbelievable action, there was one character that I really liked, and about 25 pages in the last third of the book that started to get exciting. Then that character died and everything got stupid again.

I appreciate the charms of a series, where characters build in complexity over a series of books, but I think (especially in the mystery genre) the books should be able to stand on their own. Doubleback doesn't.

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