Sunday, August 27, 2006

Jan Burke Walks the Bloodline

While we wait for Jan Burke's new Irene Kelly hardcover, Kidnapped, to come out in October, here's what I wrote about
her last one, just out in paperback:

Jan Burke is deeply gifted at plotting and character, but what earns her a special place in my heart is her obvious love and respect for small-market newspapers. The Las Piernas News-Express, where her Irene Kelly has worked since 1978, is no Los Angeles Times -- it's a struggling Southern California paper where the obits take up several pages and are largely the records of quiet local lives.

The News-Express plays an important part in Burke's first book about Kelly since she won the Edgar for Bones in 1999. In 1958, Conn O'Connor is a young reporter with the paper when his mentor, Jack Corrigan, is the victim of a near-fatal beating. Drifting into and out of consciousness, the serious boozer Corrigan tells a bizarre story of witnessing a bloodstained car being buried on a farm in the area.

Nobody but O'Connor believes the story, but 20 years later--when Kelly, as one of her first stories under O'Connor's editorship, covers the groundbreaking ceremony for a shopping center--what should emerge from the ground but a car containing human remains. Despite everyone's best efforts, the trail goes cold again; O'Connor dies, never knowing the truth; Kelly marries homicide Detective Frank Harriman; and the News-Express seems to finally be on its very last legs.

As a tribute and a debt to O'Connor, Kelly decides to thread her way through a desperately tangled series of plots about a wealthy family that went missing just after Corrigan's beating, a man claiming to be the heir to their fortune, and lots of other dangerous and devious characters. The novel's sturdy center, however, is a portrait of a vanishing American icon, the local newspaper, which makes Bloodlines a valuable relic and a journey through our collective memory.