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Monkeewrench, PJ Tracy, Putnam, $23.95.

Monkeewrench by PJ Tracy

This is an original and gripping first novel, and while the cover blurb compares it to Harlan Coben and Janet Evanovich, the resemblance here is more to Coben's stand alone thrillers than anything else. It's a plot machine, and if you can put it down while reading it - good for you - I couldn't do it. The story centers around a group of computer wizards in Minneapolis - their company is called Monkeewrench - and they are designing a computer gamer where the player catches a serial killer. It's complete with detailed crime sites, all containing clues. The problem is, the murders begin to be recreated for real - and when the police figure out the connection they aren't sure whether the Monkeewrench people are victims or killers. Both the cops and the Monkeewrench people are well drawn characters, particularly Grace, who has suffered some kind of trauma (you find out what it is during the course of the book), and has put up so many barriers, and lives life in such a careful way, that no one can get close to her emotionally or physically, except her Monkeewrench friends, whom she trusts absolutely.

While the plot and resolution are slightly unbelievable, the ability of PJ Tracy (actually a mother-daughter writing team) to create tension, keep the reader's attention, and to set her wonderfully drawn characters into the rich backdrop of a well drawn city (Minneapolis) is on a par with Harlan Coben and even Jeffrey Deaver. The book is full of twists, and the final one is such a stunner I defy anyone to figure it out. This is a fun read and I look forward very much to whatever the second book will be.

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