Stirred brings two thriller sagas — J.A. Konrath’s Lieutenant Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels series and Blake Crouch’s Andrew Z. Thomas/Luther Kite series — to a climactic finish. The fact that I’d never read a book from either series, then, makes me either the perfect person to review this novel or the worst possible one.
Having said that, anything I think about Stirred should be prefaced by the fact that Konrath and Crouch made the innovative choice to include hyperlinks in select parts of the e-book version of the text. The links give digital readers who are unfamiliar with the characters of either series the chance to learn background information about key events from previous episodes. But in their foreword, the authors say the novel can be read on it own, with no prior knowledge — so that’s what I did.
And, from first to last, I completely agree with them. New readers have no reason to shy away from this quick-witted and edgy crime novel, except maybe those who are a bit squeamish.
We meet Jack Daniels at the outset, recently retired from the Chicago Police Department and presently eight and a half months pregnant. She’s just getting ready to move forward with life after the force, and to raising the child with her boyfriend, when the infamous serial killer Luther Kite comes back on the scene with a new string of inventively gruesome murders. Against the wishes of those closest to her — as well as her own better judgment — Jack launches herself into the investigation, careless of her own current vulnerability. But the most dangerous part of her final adventure isn’t Luther’s skill and brilliant planning: it’s the fact that he’s doing it all to draw her in, and finally take her down.
Konrath and Crouch weave a tirelessly thrilling web within that seemingly clichéd plot structure, one peppered with dark humor and emotional undertones alongside typical blood-laced action. They also expertly use a slew of minor characters as the story unfolds, as Jack’s old friends from the police department help her try to unravel the mystery while a couple of other enemies return to add their two cents.
As Luther’s new murders accumulate, Jack finds intriguing links to both Dante’s Divine Comedy and an author, Andrew Z. Thomas, who has been missing for years and whose hardcore slasher novels are now appearing within the bodies of the victims. After going on a journey that leaves her on the brink of mental instability, Jack finds herself in what I assume must be her greatest test yet. When she finally learns the truth about the plans her deranged stalker has for her — as well as the real identities of everyone involved — it may already be too late.
I had a great time with this one. Plenty of torture chamber nightmares and straight-up gore, but with an engaging adrenaline boost and conscious sense of excess that reminded me of a Quentin Tarantino film. And, to use the worst reviewer’s cliché of them all, it’s a page-turner. While I had some serious work to finish the other night, I found that, regardless of my own will power, it was all taking a back seat to the last hundred pages of Stirred.