Mystery, suspense, touches of romance and a hearty dose of wry humor fill the action-packed pages of M.K. Gilroy's debut novel, Cuts Like a Knife.
Kristen Conner is a tough police detective who coaches her niece's soccer team, spends a lot of time with her family – even when things are tense, which is most of the time – and goes to church on Sunday – except when family things are tense or she's busy with work, which is a lot of the time, lately. She's a good cop who has risen through the ranks quickly – too quickly some think, crediting her dad's legacy in the department more than her skill set.
Though she can't hit the proverbial barn with a bullet, she's got great detective instincts and is all aces in hand-to-hand combat, a skill that protects her in the field but garners the attention of Internal Affairs when a knife-wielding punk cries "excessive force" upon his arrest.
Narrowly avoiding a suspension, Kristen is assigned to a hush-hush joint task force of the Chicago P.D. and the FBI to catch the serial killer known as the Cutter Shark. Desperate to catch the killer before he does his grisly work on another young Chicago woman, Kristen goes undercover in hopes of drawing him out. But the Cutter Shark has had Detective Conner in his sights all along … and he's closer than she thinks.
Hits & misses:
The novel opens with a journal entry from the nameless, faceless deranged serial killer whose identity is not revealed until near the very end of the novel. Gilroy does a fantastic job of setting the scene and introducing his villain's creepy, yet quite reasonable voice in that brief entry. The killer's point of view pops up every now and then throughout the rest of the book, but his clever, patient insanity never wavers even amidst moments of deepest frustration. He is in love with the idea of Kristen … and patient in planning the artistry of her death. His voice is both believable and chilling.
Kristen is a delight as a first-person protagonist. She's tough, habitually late, beautiful … and absolutely clueless when it comes to relationships. Only partially admitting to the anger issues her sisters (and her pushy mother) keep nagging about, Kristen keeps people at arm's length and that isolation from intimacy keeps her vulnerable to the inner demons she can't quite keep on a leash.
I loved the honesty of Kristen's inner monologue – especially in response to her not-really-boyfriend, Dell. It's quite humorous to watch Kristen vacillate between annoyance and guilt and justification of annoyance and guilt and downright exasperation at Dell's sad attempts to avoid admitting that their relationship is over. Likewise, her mother's untimely phone interruptions – such as when Kristen is about to make an arrest – are quite humorous to see her disentangle herself from.
I would have liked to have seen the immediate attraction between Kristen and FBI Agent Austin Reynolds acted upon a little earlier, but the book was so darn engaging that I'm willing to wait for that angle to amp up in book two. Kristen's intimacy issues and relational dysfunction cannot be denied and, since that romance promises to be a bigger factor in the next books in the series, I'm excited to see what lengths our heroine will go to in order to keep love – and Agent Reynolds – at bay.
Kristen Conner is a quirky, movie-ready mash-up of Castle Detective Kate Beckett's brains and beauty and the half-masticated witty charm of Special Agent Gracie Hart … about midway through her Miss Congeniality makeover. What's not to like? I'm sold on this heroine – and her ability to drive a series.
To read … or not?
Cuts Like A Knife is an intense, eerie, funny and suspenseful thriller with a very subtle faith thread that enriches rather than suffocates the story. M.K. Gilroy's debut is a sure-fire winner – even if his lead detective isn't so great with her gun.
(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)