"Bad Bird" by Chris Knopf
Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 296 pp., $25.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
This second Jackie Swaitkowski mystery novel comes up golden on all major fronts: setting, plot, felicity of style (including pacing and dialogue), and-- above all-- characterization.
The character of Jackie is a gift to hohumming mystery readers everywhere. She's far from flawless, yet near-perfect in her panoply of imperfections. Oxymoronically and paradoxically speaking.
Hardboiled detective novelists of yore would have termed her "a real dame" (just don't call her "a babe"). If she had been a 1940s Technicolor movie character, she could have been portrayed by Maureen O'Hara or Virginia Mayo. Maybe Arlene Dahl. Jackie's tresses are Irish Catholic red with strawberry blond highlights.
She likes a stiff drink in-between bottles of Chardonnay, along with a Marlboro Light in-between pre-rolled smokes of wacky tobackey.
Ostensibly a real-estate attorney on the south side of Long Island, NY, she's been seduced by the excitement (if not the grandiose pay) of criminal-defense law, which has allowed her to accumulate a variety of fascinating friends, many of them men she's managed to keep on the sunny side of the "big house."
She has cost the local cops an ongoing double-dose of antacid tablets, but they need her and vice versa. The favors floweth to and fro.
With criminal cases, Jackie can take her act out of the office (over a Japanese restaurant)-- it's cramped-over with teetering stacks of papers, anyway-- and all over the Hamptons, flashing her business cards.
She has found the one labeled "officer of the court" most helpful, a real door-opener and ice-breaker, even though almost any law-abiding citizen could be deemed an officer of the court.
Jackie's latest case literally falls in her lap, and it's a literal case at that, tossed from a prop-plane air taxi by a female pilot about to go down and then up in flames.
Bearing enigmatic photos, the pitched case provides Jackie with points from which to begin her search, which soon reveals the pilot was far too expert and experienced to have crashed as she did.
So, what's the real story behind her downfall, which the National Transportation Safety Board declares an accident?
Jackie has plenty of incentive to delve, as she not only represents the deceased pilot's husband, but also finds the clues slowly given up by the photos intersect uncomfortably with her own family's past.
It's a case-in-a-case that Jackie cannot avoid, from the get-go. "Bad Bird" takes off smoothly, flies high, offers a first-class ride, and lands on the honors list of this year's mysteries.
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