One of the advantages of belonging to a good book club, in addition to the camaraderie and the great food and booze every month, is that you occasionally wind up reading and enjoying very much a book that otherwise would have flown under your radar. And such is the case here.
For a long time I've been vaguely aware of the mother-daughter writing team, P. J. Tracy, but for whatever reason, I'd never picked up one of their books. Then this month, one of my book clubs picked Monkeewrench, the first in Tracy's Monkeewrench series. I was drawn into the book immediately and read it through about as fast as I could turn the pages.
The book opens with the murder of an elderly husband and wife who are shot to death in a Catholic church in rural Wisconsin. The parish pastor discovers the bodies very early in the morning and calls the local sheriff, Michael Halloran, who was formally an altar boy in the parish. The couple lived very simply, but when Sheriff Halloran learns that the couple left an estate worth more than seven million dollars, he immediately assumes that this might be a pretty good motive for the double murder. Then he discovers that the money was all left to the church, and that's one good motive out the window.
Meanwhile, police in Minneapolis are confronted with two seemingly unrelated murders of a male jogger and a young woman who is killed and ritualistically displayed in a cemetery. These killings fall to detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth who initially have no idea that the two killings might be related. But a small group of game developers known as Monkeewrench, understand from the jump that the killings are tied together because the murderer is imitating the killings in a new serial killer game that they have under development.
This poses a huge problem for the people at Monkeewrench because they have their own secrets to hide and their own very personal interests to protect. Principal among them is Grace MacBride, the inventor of the game, who is extremely reclusive, more than a bit paranoid, and who won't even sit in her well-protected back yard without a gun in the pocket of her bathrobe. There are eighteen more killings in the game; how long should Grace and her fellow developers wait to alert the police?
As the two investigations proceed, it quickly becomes apparent that a very dark force is at work here and that many more lives may be at risk. But how many of their own secrets will the Monkeewrench developers be willing to reveal in order to bring a killer down and how effective will the law enforcement officers in Wisconsin and Minnesota be when push comes to shove?
All in all, this is a very entertaining and compelling thriller, set mostly in Minnesota, the land where Owen Laukkanen and John Sandford have also set very successful series. There must be something in the water up there, or wherever these authors are writing these books. Tracy, like Laukkanen and Sandford, has created some extremely interesting and unique characters and set them loose in a page-turning plot. These more than a little wry humor here, a lot of action, and a conclusion that will have any reader on the edge of his or her seat. I've already bought the second book in the series and expect that I will be making my way through all of them at a pretty swift pace. Thanks to whomever it was in my book club that suggested we should make this a pick.