If you’re looking for a fast-paced, suspenseful, and frequently humorous crime novel, look no further than Dirty Martini, the dynamite new Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels book from the ever-imaginative mind of author J.A. Konrath. It’s the tale of what could happen if many of our worst fears were realized and a terrorist - in this case, an American-born one - poisoned our food supply. The only way the Chemist, the antagonist of Konrath’s book, will stop killing people with his deadly chemical concoctions is if the city of Chicago forks over two million dollars by a deadline he imposes and according to conditions he sets. Failure of the city to comply with his demands will mean “many people will die.”
People are dropping dead all over the city due to an outbreak of botulism, courtesy of the Chemist and his trusty jet-injector gun. Who best to locate the Chemist, bring him to justice, and end the outbreak than intrepid homicide Lieutenant Jack Daniels? According to Superintendent Terry O’Loughlin, newly appointed by the mayor, there were in fact ten others on the list of those who would potentially be better able to capture the chemist than Daniels. She was chosen ahead of them only because, in the words of Davy Ellis of the public relations firm of Ellis, Dickler, and Scaramouche, “Your approval rating is at eighty-three percent.” The people of Chi-Town, Ellis informs her, love her because of the success she’s had on past cases. Jack Daniels simply polled better than the other contenders. She cynically (and accurately) puts it this way:
Unbelievable. I wasn’t the best qualified to run this case, but they picked me because
I could smile pretty for the camera.
Regardless of the reasons she was chosen for the case, she takes everything in stride. She has a lot to contend with besides the havoc the Chemist is wreaking around Chicago, including trying to come to a decision on whether to marry her longtime boyfriend Latham, discovering that the father she thought was dead was very much alive; and dealing with the case despite her partner Herb Benedict’s transfer to Burglary/Robbery/Theft. It’s hard to blame the guy; he’s ten years from retirement, and being around Jack Daniels isn’t exactly good for one’s health.
She’d want to catch the Chemist solely because she’s a good cop, but when his poisoning expedition to restaurants and delis leads to the botulism poisoning of Jack’s boyfriend, Latham, catching the Chemist becomes very personal for her. The Chemist targets police in particular, booby-trapping a retired cop’s house with dangerous devices (somewhat reminiscent of the movie Saw II) which results in the deaths of six policemen and puts Jacqueline herself in the hospital. Without giving too much more away, it won’t be the Chemist’s last attempt on her life.
Konrath handles the action scenes very well, somehow managing the often difficult task of incorporating copious amounts of humor to help lighten up the otherwise extremely intense plot. One example is when Latham, prior to being poisoned, hires a trio of mariachis to serenade Jack when she comes home, when he plans to propose to her. Her cat, Mr. Friskers, provokes a cat/mariachi incident when he digs his claws into the head of one of the trio “like a face-hugger from the movie Alien.” The unfortunate mariachi who is the subject of Mr. Frisker’s attack ends up on the losing side of the tussle. Things don’t go well when his two amigos try to detach the cat:
They tried to pull away.I confess - without even Jack Daniel’s forcing the confession out of me - that Dirty Martini is the first J.A. Konrath book I’ve ever read. It is an entertaining, fun, fast-paced read that makes me want to read the previous books in the series, Whiskey Sour,
Bloody Mary, and Rusty Nail. Konrath is a first-rate writer of the modern wise-cracking style of crime novels, and Dirty Martini is a book I’d highly recommend to anyone who loves the thriller/mystery genre of literature - and who doesn’t?
Mariachi blood flowed.