31 March 2009

Chilling Complexity

J. A. Jance writes entertaining murder mysteries. I wince every time I write something like that. How can a murder mystery be entertaining? The answer has to be that Jance and her "colleagues" write fiction. No one is harmed in the writing, publishing, selling, or reading of her books.

I still get queasy when I spend spare time reading about murders -- even fictional ones. Even the stories that focus on the work of people who try to find the murderers. (At least I'm not parsing the differences between murder, assassination, and killing in battle, like Eric Black did recently in his blog, Eric Black Ink. There was no fiction to hide behind there.)

Cruel Intent is a recent Jance novel set in Arizona. The story surrounds a serial killer who murders women he's seduced and keeps a scrapbook of his kills. Of course, the story is really about the attempts to unravel the devious charade he's built around his obsessions. The book was another gift from our book supplier from Chicago. (Thanks, Mary.)

Jance tells a good yarn. This one gets a little complex technically, but I'm confident she got most of the computer tech right. After this week's revelations about the apparently-Chinese hacker network that could turn on cameras and microphones embedded in computers to eavesdrop on the rooms where the computers were used, nothing in the book is outlandish. Jance's main character is certainly lucky to have such a talented acquaintance, though. In fact, I thought for a bit while reading that it gave her an unfair advantage over the obsessive killer. Of course, the main character is lucky to be alive by the end of the story. She also learned the importance of backing up her data and having good anti-virus software on her computer.

I was entertained by the story and wasn't distracted by improbables, gaps in the story, or ethical doubts about amusing myself with fictional pain, suffering, and death. It's not great literature, but it's better than most of what passes for entertainment on television. (Even though Samantha, who is co-host of Dancing with the Stars, was a student in a class I taught, I haven't been able to watch that "entertainment" since I sat through the very first program to see if the 16-year-old beauty I'd known had turned out to be a grown up beauty. She had. Sorry, Sam, I just can't take the show. I'd rather read a murder mystery.)

Have you read Cruel Intent? Tell us about your reaction.

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