Review by Adrina Palmer
Trajan Jones works with his partner to solve a string of throwaway kid murders and fight the hidden political world in Surrender, New York.
If you are looking for a light read for a casual weekend on the couch, put this book away. Caleb Carr takes twice as long as necessary to meander to the finale, with long stops on side roads. Despite the pace and stop offs in directions best left to tourists, the characters are the highlight of this book. Trajan “LT” Jones and Mike Li, the crime-solving duo feel like friends, not creations of an overactive imagination. Carr manages to create an entire town full of distinct people so engaging their presence is tangible. Even though the people are detailed down to the color of their canes and favorite soda, the plot falls to the wayside lost in the intricacies of the plethora of personalities to include Marcianna, the cheetah. The plot follows the typical path of crime novels. One murder leads to a string of murders, with trickles of information flowing haltingly, mixed in with politics which hinder most local law enforcement.
Trajan Jones and his associate Mike Li teach criminology online in a small town in New York after their banishment from New York City. Local law enforcement seeks them out as consultants on a string of murders involving throwaway children abandoned by their parents and left to their own defenses. The first victim, a local teenage girl, provides Jones and Li an opportunity to use their powerful brains to deduce clues local police are unable to notice. While out for an evening constitutional with his tame pet cheetah, Jones stumbles upon two teenagers with similar backgrounds to the victim and invites them to be his youthful eyes as he and his partner explore the case that quickly finds two more victims to add to the list.
The victims share more in common than just their social standing as abandoned teenagers, but also ambitious goals making them an easy mark for the infertile rich. When a fourth victim is found, the pair works hard to solve the crime with the help of their youthful associate Lucas and his guardian sister Ambyr Kurtz. Derek, best friend to Lucas, resides with the Kurtz’s as he too shares an abandoned past with the victims. Before long, the rag-tag team finds themselves in the spotlight with several branches of the law working to cover the tracks of this story before mainstream media reports teenagers are dying left and right during an election year. Local politicians work to quiet anyone willing to speak out against this growing case and bring to light the failings of the government to care for citizens, even those deemed as throwaways.
The police fail to find clues except those planted by the higher ups hoping to close the case neatly. With the locals ill-equipped to fight the deaths of the teens, Jones and his crew pick up the slack. In the meantime, the politicians keep everyone busy by framing a not so innocent couple in the attempt to wrap the case. Determined to solve the case before the politicians can work their dark magic to seduce the public into compliance, Jones and Li plan a trip with Lucas to New York City to find the ringleader of what appears to be a massive operation to herd unwanted children into homes of the wealthy. Jones and Li find themselves in a game of cat and mouse when the politicians threaten their lives in exchange for silencing their discoveries. With the help of their online students, the co-workers wade through the clues to find the sharp fragments of the operation. As the case tacks on yet one more murder, closer to home this time, the team scrambles to solve the case, break the political holds barring the conclusion of the case, and keep those they care about alive.
Several questions are left unanswered by the end of this novel, mainly because of the circuitous route to the finish line. Inside of the 592-page tome, the questions get lost in tangents about nature, local town history, and more intimate details about second party characters than is necessary. The action scenes do offer a break from the monotony of details about the town of Surrender and the farm where Jones lives with his aunt. A bit of romance is thrown in but seems to be an after thought, thrown in on the third revision because of the lack of appeal to all readers. Caleb Carr appears to have a deep-seated resentment of God with his prolific use of swear words directed at the deity by almost every single character. The cheetah is an odd but enjoyable addition to lighten the tone and serve a useful ally.
Carr is skilled at introducing clues that need to be sought out and mulled over. Sadly, the clues are not hidden well enough in this novel that follows a map laid out by most murder mysteries. I was able to figure out the ringleader before I was half way through the novel and was quite disappointed to find I was correct. A few more twists and turns would have been eagerly welcomed along with more information about the actual victims and more opportunities away from the political vendettas. The story simply had too many different avenues to focus on without those avenues lead to enough excitement. Predicability notwithstanding, the novel was vividly and eloquently written enough to making the book a worthwhile use of time.
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