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A Classic Whodunit With Southern Flair
on July 5, 2011
I love Jennifer Becton's work, so when I heard she had a mystery out, I bought it immediately for my holiday reading. Mysteries are hit or miss with me--more often than not, the supposedly quirky heroine is only annoying or daft. Cozy mysteries leave me wanting a little more edge, and thrillers keep me up at night. The plot is either way too predictable or the ending is such a surprise that it doesn't make sense looking back. Despite all this, I trusted Becton to navigate the perilous waters to deliver a worthy tale. She did not disappoint.
Julia Jackson's story grabbed me from the opening paragraph. Julia is an insurance fraud investigator who ran out for a cup of coffee. On the way back to the office, she learns she's been abducted. The mystery then focuses on who wanted to abduct Julia, with a suspect list pulled from her current cases. Her employer, the Georgia Department of Insurance, assigns her a partner to finish those pending investigations.
I have to agree with a previous reviewer. Mark Vincent is hot. He's a reserve Naval enlisted man whose specialty is personal defense. Since it doesn't take a genius to see that Julia was obviously the intended target of the abduction, Mark's presence makes sense. The two of them work well together, and there's also a fair amount of chemistry.
Or maybe it was just hot in there--after all, Absolute Liability is set in the South during summer. Becton's setting details were as exquisite as they were subtle. I could feel the heat without being told it was hot. I actually wanted my own glass of sweet tea to cool myself down.
So how did Absolute Liability stack up against my list of typical complaints?
1) Julia was a fantastic heroine. The story is told in first person, which allows the reader to learn things about her that she doesn't actually share with anyone. Her background and her dysfunctional family go a long way to establishing who she is, so it was important to learn that upfront. Beyond that, she's clever without being a know-it-all, funny without being slapstick, and flawed without being annoying.
2) I wouldn't classify this as a cozy, but it also wasn't a heart-racing thriller. There was definitely an undercurrent of danger--our heroine was the target from the first page. Somehow though Becton managed to convey that element of suspense without making me double check my locks before I went to bed.
3) The solution to this case was twofold. I figured out one half on my own, but the second was an absolute shock. After I thought about it for a moment, it made perfect sense. It also solidified my hunch regarding the other half... which did turn out to be correct. That's the perfect blend of logical solution and suspenseful whodunit.
Absolute Liability was the best mystery I've read in ages. I'm so glad it's the first of a series.