Flashpoint, by Lynn Hightower*****

flashpoint“Anybody talk to a doctor?”
“Guy came out of emergency and talked to the brother.”
“Hear what he said?”
“Just that they were very concerned with Mark’s condition, and were doing all they could.”
“Shit. Mark won’t make it then. They’re already hanging the crepe.”

Sonora Blair is one of the most kick-ass female detectives to hit the shelves in a very long time. Lucky me, I read it free, thanks to Net Galley and Open Road Integrated Media. The original publication date was 1995, and so the initial publishers must have dropped the ball big-time when it came to promotion, because I know this is the kind of story that resonates with large numbers of people, especially women. And I am glad to see it being resold by Open Road, because they know how to do the job right.

So back to Sonora. No wait, let’s go back to Hightower first. What a total bad-ass when it comes to setting! I loved seeing her enter the home where her children were asleep, and the explosion of naked Barbie doll parts in her daughter’s room. I loved the moment when her elderly dog had an accident in the living room, and she was so distracted by the hundred other things, personal and professional, all colliding at once, that it was not even the first thing she took care of once she found it.

So we have two interesting threads here. One is the problem. A killer out there has murdered a man by handcuffing him to the steering wheel of a vehicle and setting fire to it…and him. It’s grisly business, but Hightower doesn’t overwork the detail to where it triggers my “ick” button; in other words, although it’s terrible, it is never so terrible that I just don’t want to read it anymore. And the problem just becomes thornier and trickier the longer she works on it. Clues drop here and there, and the stakes go up.

The other thread is Blair’s personal life, and the problems she faces in dealing with home and work. It sounds like a tired old song when I put it that way, but like any really skillful writing, it sounds brand new when the author rubs her own brand of English on it and sends it spinning.

After having read several hundred mystery, crime fiction, police procedural, and thriller novels—okay, if I had starting keeping track sooner, I know it would be well over a thousand—there are a handful of devices that are so frequently used that my eyes auto-roll when I see them utilized. I was watching for them. But Blair never gets tossed into the trunk of anybody’s car; she never gets the phone call saying the killer has her kids; there is never a moment when we realize she has been framed for the killing herself, and has to solve it to save her own butt. I’m not saying a great writer can’t get away with any of those; there are some Grand Masters out there that have done it and before my eyes could make the full roll, they were glued back to the page. But once someone reaches into that worn, soiled bag of tricks, it becomes a lot harder to engage me, and I was delighted that Blair never went there.

Her facility with setting is consistently brilliant throughout the book.

One tiny odd bit: for the first chapter or two, I was convinced that Blair was African-American. When she turned up blonde later, I had to mentally reinvent her. It didn’t take long though, because I was riveted and had to get back to the story.

For fans of outstanding detective fiction, this is a must-read. Order it now for yourself, or as a gift for someone you know will love it.

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