I love authors who surprise me, especially when I’m expecting one kind of book and am delivered quite another. Not that the award-winning J.M. Redmann has written a bad Micky Knight mystery. Somehow, I think that outcome would be quite impossible. It’s just that this one didn’t take one of the subplots the way I thought it would. And I enjoyed it all the more for the surprise.
Micky Knight, fearless New Orleans private investigtator, gets involved with an FBI agent (or is she?) and her case involving human trafficking (or is it?), all of which is complicated by her relationship with another government official also working the case (or is she?). To add to the layers, she finds herself involved with Madame Celeste, the owner of a high-class prostitution outfit. Who is the real agent and who is the phony? The answer may surprise you.
In fact, many surprises await the long time reader of Micky Knight mysteries. Perhaps the most painful, or so the Amazon reviews might lead you to believe, is the fate of Knight’s partner Cordelia. As fans of the series will remember, Cordelia was diagnosed with cancer during the last installment. I don’t want to introduce a spoiler here, so I have to remain purposely vague. This issue , however, is central to any critique of the book and series, and you can easily find any number of fans writing reviews at Amazon who were upset by the choices Redmann made about Cordelia. But data will be lost with any reboot. Readers will be angry because the author did not take the paths they envisioned. And I must admit, I was rather shocked at what happened. But the outcome frees Redmann to take the entire series in other directions which may prove more exciting. Authors don’t grow without taking chances, and I don’t blame Redmann for not wanting to write the same book over and over. In that respect, The Shoal of Time is a transitional move.
That said, Knight is left adrift in ways she hasn’t been in a long time and must rely on some skills she hasn’t used in a while. Which brings me to the second major Amazonian criticism–that of Knight’s so-called lapses in judgment that put her in some awkward positions. The “Cordelia Outcome” has left Knight confused, vulnerable, and off her game so, of course, is going to make mistakes she ordinarily wouldn’t. What I find particularly brilliant about this is that the mistakes Redmann has Knight making are so amateurish, so obvious, that we know even without being told they’re related to the tattered state of her relationship.
For a character who never makes an appearance in the entire installment (oh, shit–there’s a spoiler), Cordelia’s fingerprints are all over this book from the aforementioned mistakes to Knight’s infatuations, willing and unwilling, with all three major female characters–the two agents and Madame Celeste. Her presence looms like a shadow over the narrative. The human trafficking mystery as well as the mystery over which government agent is real and which is bogus are obvious enough to be secondary, though interesting.
The real story here is the trashing of Micky Knight’s world and how she attempts to cope with the wreckage crashing around her. As far as that goes, this is fascinating reading that will upset fans yet provide a clean slate for Redmann to build something new and entirely different. As the saying goes, “Go big or go home.” Thankfully, Redmann has gone big.
And I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.
© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler