Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Web Of Evil" by J.A. Jance

Ali Reynolds is heading to Los Angeles to finalise her divorce from husband Paul Grayson, who is set to marry his pregnant mistress, April Gaddis, the day after the proceedings are over. He never shows at the hearing - but that's because someone had trussed him up, slapped him in the boot of a car and left it in the path of an oncoming train. Ali winds up as a suspect in the murder, and things start looking especially bad for her when it is revealed that Paul never had time to change his will and she remains his sole beneficiary. A sense of sympathy results in her getting involved in April's plight, which makes her life even more complicated and ultimately gets her caught up in the web that ended her husband's life.

After too many books to count in which proceedings went nowhere fast, "Web Of Evil" was a small, but refreshing change. It's by no means a terrific book, and far too many contrivances pile up as it heads towards its finish, but at least SOMETHING HAPPENS. There's no slogging through endless, minute technical detail as evidence is collected from crime scenes, or characters throwing motives back and forth while sitting around on their asses waiting for results to come back from the lab. Jance seems to operate on this outrageous, novel notion that you can have a little action and suspense in your story, and that your climax doesn't need a Scooby-Doo surprise villian popping up to explain their motive that had barely been hinted at in the previous 300 pages (sorry, a direct reference to "Broken", a letdown that still rankles me). In "Web Of Evil" the characters are pro-active in both sorting out their problems and tracking down the source of them. Unfortunately, this is where my big quibble with this book arises.

Throughout her turmoil, Ali counts on help from both her mother and a police officer friend by the name of Dave Holman. Through the latter, they are privy to all sorts of insider information because Dave just happens to be a former marine and several of his marine buddies are now in different areas of law enforcement. When the plot calls for it, Dave conveniently has a friend he can call on for help. Consequently, as the book nears its finish, Ali doesn't so much seem like an independent woman solving her own problems as she does a woman simply being in the right place at the wrong time because Dave and his buddies already have everything figured out and are letting her tag along out of the kindness of their hearts. When she's allowed to accompany them on a major police takedown, I was almost taken - right out of the book.

It seems like a no-win situation in the crime/thriller genre. I hate a police procedural so focused on accuracy that they forget to include any suspense or action or even much of a plot (or in the case of Stuart MacBride and James Patterson, about four or five mini-plots that have nothing to do with each other). On the other hand, I get fed up with the more pacy thrillers which suspend disbelief with the never-ending supply of helpers the protagonist can conjure up at the drop of a hat when the plot demands it. There don't seem to be many books out there that can tread the fine line between the two (my favourite authors Tess Gerritsen and Robert Crais would be examples of those who can). Then there are the crime authors who got their start in category romance, but that's a whole other issue....

"Web Of Evil" did the trick for me after a seemingly never-ending parade of complete yawners. It's not perfect, but the characters are both believable and likeable, the plot moves at a solid pace, and the ending doesn't come out of left field - it's not predictable, but it's an expected outcome from all the clues and hints dropped throughout the story. I'll be interested in taking a look at this author's other works.

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