Written by LJ Sellers — This is the latest in a series of crime novels centred around Detective Wade Jackson. He is a 40-something police officer with a teenage daughter, a divorced wife with a drink problem and an exotic girlfriend who works with vulnerable adults. Years ago, his parents were murdered by a Mexican odd-job man who stole their savings. Jackson is forced to revisit the past when he receives a letter from their convicted killer. Hector Vargas is dying of cancer in the Oregon State Penitentiary, but swears to Jackson that although he stole the cashbox, he had no part in the killing.
Jackson revisits the case and discovers that the original investigation was at best slipshod, and potentially corrupt. Meanwhile, a woman who has been in a coma for two years after an apparent drug overdose begins to wake up. As she regains consciousness, she claims that she had been attacked by her ex-husband. Jackson’s feisty colleague Lara Evans is brought into the action, while no-nonsense Sergeant Lammers calls the shots from police HQ.
Sellers is an award-winning journalist and this is reflected it the writing style. Dying for Justice has a straight, punchy, facts-first narrative with little or no room for reflection or respite for the main characters. The story moves at a dizzying pace, and is condensed into a very short time span. The events happen almost in real-time. As one surprise kicks the reader relentlessly forward to the next, there is no time to admire the scenery or to share complex self-analysis by the main characters.
This book may disappoint readers who like the geographical setting to be an essential part of the story. It is set in Eugene, Oregon, but the action could be taking place almost anywhere. We are left to guess what Eugene is like as a place to live and work. It does not inhabit the novel in the same way that New Orleans towers over the Dave Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke, or in the way that the frozen wastes of Minnesota brood over John Sandford’s Prey books. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. The plot of Dying For Justice is so cunningly woven, the dialogue so good, and the speed of events so urgent that we are have no time to absorb how the environment may be shaping the events, or sit back with the protagonists in the wee small hours while they ponder life’s mysteries over a glass of Bourbon.
The twists in the story defy detection by even the most hardened and observant of crime buffs, and it is an endearing quality in both Wade and Lara that, right up until the closing pages, they seem to be getting it wrong as often as they are getting it right. It is obvious that there is something of the author in the portrayal of the persistent journalist, Sophie, and the admirable police officer, Lara. Don’t expect to have your life view radically altered, or be forced to re-evaluate your take on the human condition, but if you want an excellent no-frills read, then Dying For Justice is worth reading.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars