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Eye of Vengeance, Jonathon King, Dutton, $24.95.

Eye of Vengeance by Jonathon King

Jonathon King has stepped away from his Max Freeman series and taken a page from his pal Michael Connelly's book, to write a straightforward, taut, intelligent thriller. Eye of Vengeance is about crime reporter Nick Mullins, whose wife and daughter have been killed in a car accident, and whose present life with his surviving daughter is running a little bit on auto-pilot. His life intersects with sniper Michael Redman, who appears to be picking noxious ex-cons off at random. His first kill is a real skank named Stephen Ferris who kidnapped, raped and murdered 6 and 8 year old sisters. Ferris brings Mullins to two people - directly to the mother of the murdered girls, and indirectly into the path of Michael Redman. Both Redman and the girl's mother see something of value in Nick's stories; the mother sees compassion - she had been homeless at the time of the murders, and Nick had never made reference to it in his stories; Redman sees justice and truth. Both work on Nick from different directions.

The details of the crime reporter's life are really well done - probably because King is himself an actual crime reporter. Everything he writes has a real ring of truth and authenticity. He is drawn into the police investigation - very reluctantly - by a certain Detective Maurice Hargreave, who is my favorite character in the book. Hargreave is smart, practically humorless, and pretty skeptical (at first) of Nick's involvement, though of course he changes his mind. His inflexibility and brains reminded me of Margaret Maron's uptight cop, Sigrid Harald.

This story is well - and believably - put together, and that's both its strength and weakness. You can believe the story as it unfolds; the details of the sniper's time spent in Iraq are disturbing and vivid; the unfolding relationship between Nick and his daughter is well drawn and moving; and the side characters - Hargreaves, and to a lesser extent, Nick's housekeeper Elsa, are well drawn and hard to forget. It's the plot that bothered me, though it wouldn't stop me from reading the book. It's just that this book is so well done I almost forgot it was by Jonathon King and started thinking it was by Michael Connelly, and I expected a few more complicated twists at the end. The end game is fairly obvious to any regular mystery reader, but it didn't stop me from shedding a tear on the last page. Nick has grown and changed throughout the story but not too much - I definitely want to read more about him to find out what he gets into next. This novel is well worth a look.

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