Signet, April 2004
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
On a frosty winter morning, John and Mary Kleinfeldt are murdered while sitting in the pew of their rural Wisconsin church. Sheriff Michael Halloran's investigation leads him to discover that Kleinfeldt wasn't their real name. They had a long list of aliases and lived armed to the teeth in fear of something or someone.
Minneapolis Detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth are assigned to investigate several local homicides when they get a phone tip from Grace MacBride. She believes two recent deaths reported in the news may be connected to a new video game her company, Monkeewrench Software Development, has released. The game, Serial Killer Detective, allows players to investigate 20 crime scenes with a goal of eliminating suspects until the serial killer is found. Someone has begun mimicking the murders from the video game, staging the crime scenes exactly like the deaths in the game. Magozzi and Rolseth must find the killer and uncover the murderers connection to the Monkeewrench developers.
They begin investigating the group of misfits who call themselves the Monkeewrench developers: Grace MacBride, a fragile woman in a black trench coat carrying a concealed weapon; Annie Belinsky, a flamboyant plus-sized sexpot; Harley, a tattooed biker type; Roadrunner, a six foot bean pole; and Mitchell Cross, a buttoned down corporate type. The investigation is stonewalled by the absence of background on them. The detectives discover that every one of the Monkeewrench developers have changed their identities and have permits to carry concealed weapons. This mysterious group and the gruesome deaths lead Magozzi, Rolseth and Halloran together as they follow a trail of chilling events.
MONKEEWRENCH is a very clever thriller with edge-of-your-seat suspense and a quirky cast of characters. Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth are the central characters of this crime series. Magozzi is a divorced, lonely man, ripe for a love interest. Gino is easy-going and extremely likable. He's a happily married family man who loves to eat. The dialogue is lively with lots of laugh out loud moments despite the murder theme. There is also a light romantic plot involving Sheriff Halloran and one of his deputies, Sharon Mueller. The mystery plot is skillfully written with a dramatic and terrifying ending. It's a real page-turner that's hard to put down.
This is P.J. Tracy's debut novel and it is so well written it's hard to believe it's a first novel. P.J. Tracy is the pen name for Patricia and Traci Lambrecht, a mother and daughter writing team from Minnesota and California. LIVE BAIT, a sequel featuring Magozzi and Rolseth, was released in hardback in May. I highly recommend this mystery tale; it's one of the best reads this year.
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