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Nine    by Jan Burke order for
by Jan Burke
Order:  USA  Can
Pocket, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I have been a fan of Jan Burke's Irene Kelly mysteries for many years, especially Bones which took them to the top of the genre. I found Flight not quite as good, but Nine is up there again, the author's best yet, despite an entirely new cast of characters.

The story opens on what investigators call an AVA, 'asshole versus asshole', killing, with a large number, 9 of course, painted in blood on a mirror. At the scene is Homicide Detective Alex Brandon of the Los Angeles County Sherriff's Department (LASD). Alex still misses his old partner/mentor J.D. who died the year before, and is uncomfortable with his prickly new partner Ciara. What they do have in common is a high clearance rate on the job.

Alex quickly notices an eerie similarity to an old case of his, in which a serial killer forced his stepson to participate in multiple murders. The stepson later killed the killer and the police wonder what has become of him since. The reader finds out before they do, watching Kit bury his dog and cope with a tomboy teenager, the self-styled Spooky and her tendency to pick pockets and to indulge in the occasional arson. They seem to have adopted each other.

As more AVAs follow, it becomes clear that they are being engineered by a gang (almost a cult) of rich, delinquent young men with a charismatic and manipulative leader, Everett Corey, who has a longstanding grudge against Alex. There is a connection to a television show called 'Crimesolvers USA' and to a private school for young rich offenders, Sedgewick, which Kit and Everett both attended.

A variety of sub-plots involve other wonderful characters like Alex's uncle John who raised him and his brother after the suicide of their father. There is the lovely Meghan, to whom both Everett and Kit are attracted, and her brother who has managed to get himself on the FBI's Most Wanted List, despite innocence of the particular crime that put him there. There is an old dying profiler friend of John's who gives good advice, and Alex's nephew Chase, whose parents plan to send him to Sedgewick.

The author stirs and thickens the plot nicely, laying down quite a few false trails and hidden traps for her readers, as the vicious old school chums go after each of the FBI's Most Wanted, with the media cheering them on. One of the victims happens to be a terrorist and the lowlife hired to guard him shares his philosophy, in a very down to Earth take on extremists and those who manipulate them ... it's a perspective that also fits his vigilante employers.

Soon innocents are at risk and the good guys must put themselves in harm's way as they rush to the rescue in a cliffhanger of an ending that will blow you away. Nine has all the ingredients needed for an amazing movie, much like those by James Patterson, featuring another Alex; I hope to see it one day.

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