The Last Witness, K.J. Erickson, St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95.
If Steve Hamilton's book is my favorite of the year, The Last Witness is a close second - this is a very exciting author both to read and to discover. This series may masquerade as a standard police procedural, but like all the best writers in this genre, Ericskon has added her own twists to the formula to make it very much her own. The central character, Marshall Bahr, is a divorced father of one, who has a well detailed, believable, and beautifully written relationship with his son, Chris. He works without a partner and is given every latitude by the chief of police and the mayor, because while his fellow cops may find his morals a little too strict at times, they also grudgingly admire him. His co-worker, Nettie, functions as a partner, though not in the traditional sense, as she doesn't go out on interviews or do the actual investigative footwork along with Mars. Rather, she's a computer and organizational whiz who makes Mars' job smoother, and together they are often able to brainstorm their way to a solution. These novels are set in Minneapolis, and as a former resident, I enjoyed reading about the familiar streets and parks, but I would think any reader would respond to the vivid descriptions of the city.
I started off with the last book in this series - The Last Witness - and was so knocked out by it I read the other two (the first one, Third Person Singular, is also a standout), but I think it's not completely necessary to read this series in order, though it is fun to trace the development of Mars' relationship with his son. The Last Witness begins with the discovery of the dead wife of a famous basketball star, T-Jack, and while the dead woman's parents are sure T-Jack is responsible, they can't prove it - they had spent most of the past few hours with him, hammering out a divorce settlement. The character of T-Jack is one of the more sinister I've encountered in any mystery, and made all the more impressive by the fact that the author, instead of telling us about him, reveals his character slowly, as Mars traces the life of his dead wife, meets his young daughter, and the aunt who takes care of her. T-Jack in person is seldom encountered, and it serves to make him both more mysterious and more menacing.
To further engage the reader, Erickson puts her central character (Mars) in almost intolerable situations both personally and professionally, and they are dealt with throughout the novel. These books are also an excellent look at the contemporary American workplace, and its function or dysfunction. The story in this novel is such a good one, and has so many good twists, so much excellent writing and character development, that it would be a shame for anyone to miss the pleasure of this book. I have to amend my statement of the last review - you better read two mysteries this year, and this might as well be the other one.
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