Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Judas Heart by Ingrid Black

I was thinking recently that it is not fun trying to browse the big box bookstores. They just are not laid out for discovery. Which leads me to this:

If I didn't have Internet Access
And If I hadn't discovered blogs
And If I hadn't found Crime Always Pays
And If Declan Burke hadn't offered a copy of The Judas Heart to his readers
And If I hadn't scored a copy
Then I might never have discovered Ingrid Black.

Ingrid Black is actually the pseudonym of a wife-and-husband writing team living in Dublin, Ireland. The Judas Heart is the third in a series featuring former FBI agent Saxon and all are set in Dublin. Saxon is a woman whose first name do not know. The first two in the series are The Dead (2003) and The Dark Eye (2004).

Saxon lost her faith in being a Special Agent, that they were actually accomplishing anything, and resigned after five years. Now she is a true-crime writer, living in Dublin and in a relationship with Grace Fitzgerald, Detective Chief Superintendent with the Murder Squad of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Saxon is a bit of a loose cannon,impulsive, tenacious, and not known for her people skills.

As the story begins, Saxon sees a former FBI colleague and mentor, Leon Kaminski (known as J.J.) at a book stall. They make eye contact but before Saxon can get to him, he deliberately gives her the slip and she is left puzzled and annoyed. Over lunch with Fitzgerald we see that Saxon inclined to over analyze Kaminski's actions. Fitzgerald suggests that she is making things complicated and suggests that she find out where he is staying and say hello. Then Fitzgerald gets a call that a murdered woman has been discovered and is off to handle the investigation leaving Saxon to act on Kaminski.

Then things get complicated: Saxon knew the murdered woman slightly; the new Assistant Commissioner asks Saxon to join the investigation as a consultant; Saxon begins to find out what happened to Kaminski after they parted ways but the information raises more questions; Saxon begins to suspect that there is a connection between Kaminski and the murder; and who is Buck Randall III anyway.

I really enjoyed this book and rate it one of my top reads of 2007. I like it for several reasons but let me get the technical reasons out of the way first.

  • The Judas Heart is a first person narrative. This approach appeals to me because I often find it more interesting to know only what the narrator knows.
  • The evidence is uncovered in the course of normal police investigation (with some dramatic license). Saxon is the one who makes the big break but with a few initial clues I think you can argue for inevitable discovery.
  • The authors do not have Saxon withhold information from the police. I get really annoyed with a character deciding to keep information to him/herself for no logical reason except to complicate the investigation for the reader.
The main reason I like this book is Saxon. She is one of the more intriguing characters I've read lately and I've been looking for a good series character. I don't think I've been as taken with a female character since Carol O'Connell introduced Kathy Mallory in Mallory's Oracle. As you read Saxon's narration you can almost feel her mind at work, brooding at times, at others furiously racing, rearranging what she knows, trying to fit evidence into a framework. All the while there is Grace Fitzgerald trying to keep her focused and rational.

I don't believe that The Judas Heart is available in the U.S. yet but you can find the first two in the series on Amazon. While you are waiting, start with them. That way you will have the back-story when you get your hands on the latest.