Saturday, April 24, 2010


THE END GAME by Gerrie Ferris Finger
Minotaur Books
Publication Date April 27, 2010

In the first five pages we neet Dru, he protagonist, and Lake, her lover, sound asleep on a rare weekend together.A train horn wakes Dru -- "the seven A.M. from Birmingham was smack on time." Lake lives on the third floor of an old cotton warehouse. Trains shake the building and their horns are "loud and long like an off-key contralto." To Dru the horns are like a piece of familiar music and she knows the"signature sounds of seven air horn maestroes."

A couple of phone calls later Dru is out of the shower, Lake has strapped on his cop gear, and they're on their way to a fire where two people are dead and two young girls are missing.The girls are foster children and the youngest is hearing impaired.

We learn that Dru and Lake were partners at the Atlanta PD until he was promoted to the homicide unit and she quit to start Child Trace and search for missing kids.

It's a chaotic scene: emergency vehicles, cops, firemen, curious neighbors, reporters, two search dogs with their handler, helicopter clattering overhead, The fire captain declares the fire an arsonist's work, using a delayed starter. Dru and Lake work the neighborhood. Everybody knows a little something but nobody wants to talk. Before long there's an "eeny-meeny-miney-moe of suspects."

Is the kidnapper Conrad, the universally disliked head of Child Protective Services? Is Doonan, the property-rich architect next door, a child molester? How about Dwight, the ex-con who may or may not have been wrongly convicted of pedophilia? How about Miss Goddard, also known as Gossiping Goddard, who keeps secrets? And who is "Santa," the person the two missing girls were seen chatting with earlier?

This is a busy novel, with the scene shifting from neighbors' houses, to the cemetery, where local families went for picnics, to the rail yards. A second explosion takes place. A family dog turns up dead. More murders confuse the cops. Rumours surface about other missing children.

For me, the pleasure of reading this novel comes from its adherence to old-fashioned police work. Dru and Lake study crime scenes, ask questions and cross-check gossip. Dru does have a computer hacker working for her who feeds her information, but again, it's nothing fancy, just a case of following leads. At first they find it slow going. People are too caught up in their own affairs to notice what goes on in the world around them. Everyone remembers something, however trivial, but fear getting their neighbors in trouble.

Dru and Lake finally get a break from a mysterious informant. Dru meets him in the local cathedral. His information is detailed and credible, and the chase is on.

One brief exchange gave me a chuckle. Dru asks the mysterious informant how the various players communicate. He says: "How does everybody communicate? E-mail."

The search for the missing girls kicks into high gear, but to say more would be a spoiler.

Two of my favorite characters were the sniffer dogs: Buddy, a German shepherd who sniffs the air, and Jed,a black Lab who's a ground-tracker. The author works their special skills into a scene without resorting to an information dump.

This book won the 2009 Malice Domestic contest for best first traditional mystery. Publication date is April 27.

My thanks to the author and her publisher for an ARC.

Pat Browning
Yukon, OK
ABSINTHE OF MALICE (Krill Press 2008)
Now on Kindle $1.99

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