TITLE: Fresh Kill (The Jimmy McSwain Files, Book 6)
AUTHOR: Adam Carpenter
269 pages, MLR Press, ISBN 9781641222426 (paperback)
DESCRIPTION: (from Goodreads) Jimmy McSwain returns, but the question remains, now that he has finally solved the fifteen-year-old murder of his father, NYPD cop Joseph, who is he now? Busy concentrating on family issues, Jimmy hasn’t taken a new case in nearly three months, and when a call comes in from Philip Connelly, who wants proof of his wife, Myra’s, cheating, Jimmy is torn. Take the case, or so no. He rejects it, only to learn a week later that Philip has been found dead in a park on Staten Island. The police believe it was suicide, but Myra—a self-admitted adulteress—is convinced he was murdered. Guilt eating at him, Jimmy agrees to take the case. But it seems his decision to rejoin the world has also affected the other areas of his life: his sister Mallory is healing from the bullet meant for Jimmy, an old friend from his father’s past has resurfaced, and his lover, Captain Francis X. Frisano, is working a difficult case in Chelsea where gay men are being attacked. If that wasn’t enough, Jimmy is on the hunt for his new nemesis, the criminal mastermind Mr. Wu-Tin, who months ago tried to murder him. A fire at one Mr. Wu-Tin’s warehouses stirs fear in Jimmy that the man is trying to destroy evidence of his crimes. As he works the case of the cuckolded husband, a surprise twist happens in his pursuit of Mr. Wu-Tin. Suddenly Jimmy feels that just as he is hoping to find answers, new questions emerge about what it means to get a fresh start on life.
MY RATING: 5 stars out of 5
MY THOUGHTS: Fresh Kill launches a new sequence of Jimmy McSwain Files from author Adam Carpenter. Any time a series that seems to already be complete takes a pause and then returns, there’s always the concern that the author may be dipping too many times into the same tapped-out well. Will the new books just be repetitive of what went before? Will we see the same types of cases, the same types of suspects, the same-old-same-old romance/sex?
I’m happy to report that Adam Carpenter has managed to keep things fresh with his re-launch of the Jimmy McSwain Files. Yes, there are some similarities in terms of narrative arc and character development, but overall this doesn’t feel like a re-tread. If this were a television series (and hopefully someday it will be), this book would be that season that gets added when the network says “your show makes us a lot of money, find a way to continue it.” Unfortunately, on television such decisions rarely result in a new season of equal or better quality (I’m looking at you, Castle!). Thankfully, in the print world the creator/author has a bit more control over what’s done to extend the story.
The action picks up just a few months after the end of Forever Haunt, the final book in the first sequence. For those who might not remember, that book ended with good news/bad news. Jimmy finally solved the murder of his beloved father, but a new enemy tried to kill Jimmy and almost succeeded in killing his sister Mallory instead. Jimmy’s been taking time off from the private investigating to help with Mallory’s physical therapy (and, honestly, to blame himself for her predicament and vow vengeance on the man who ordered the botched hit). So this sequence gives Jimmy a new family-related crime to obsess over: finding the evidence he needs to help the police arrest and convict international businessmen/crime lord Mr. Wu-Tin. This is similar to the arc of the first five books, in which Jimmy was obsessed with solving the death of his own father in front of his eyes fourteen years earlier. The difference this time is that Jimmy knows exactly who ordered the hit on him – he just can’t prove it because the evidence he has on Mr. Wu-Tin is inadmissible in court. And so the NYC Police, with whom Jimmy has always had a tenuous relationship as an organization, can’t do anything. Jimmy is frustrated with their inaction and with being told to stay away from the suspect while the wheels of justice slowly turn.
But now that Mallory is being transferred to a care facility “up-state” (Putnam County, which really is only considered “upstate NY” if you’re from NYC or Long Island, but I digress), Jimmy needs to start working again. Investigating, and aggravating, Mr. Wu-Tin is not going to pay the bills. Jimmy gets a call from, and turns down, a potential client who wants him to investigate infidelity claims. A week later, the caller turns up dead on Staten Island. The police say it was suicide, but the victim’s wife wants Jimmy to prove it was murder. Complicating matters is the wife’s actual infidelity with not one but two men (one she calls her lover, the other her boyfriend), and employees of the dead man with secrets of their own. It’s a fairly straightforward murder mystery as these things go, although if I have any complaint about the book it’s that there weren’t enough actual suspects to consider. Most of the peripheral characters are cleared pretty quickly and written off (so to speak). I think I’d have liked a little more mystery to the mystery; instead, the reader picks up pretty quick on what’s really going on – quicker than Jimmy does, at least – and more time is spent linking the main case to Jimmy’s obsession. I won’t spoil all the twists that get us there, as there are some fun reveals along the way.
There are also three subplots running, that will continue through the remaining books in this sequence, I’m sure.
First, there’s Mallory’s recovery, set against the fact that the rest of the women in the family have the summer off (the theater at which Jimmy’s mother and younger sister work closes for the summer) which leaves Jimmy as superfluous at best. There are several solid scenes between Jimmy and his family members, including his Uncle Paddy, and I always love seeing these interactions. This is a family that loves each other but never pretends any one of them is perfect, and the relationships feel real.
The second sub-plot has Jimmy developing a new mentor relationship – Ralphie, his father’s best friend and former police partner died in Forever Haunt and Jimmy’s feeling at loose ends for a mentor. Enter Jonathan Tolliver, another former co-worker of Jimmy’s dad, now retired thanks to ALS. Jonathan fills the hole quite well, providing advice and insider info from his time on the force. Unfortunately, it’s pretty obvious that Jonathan, like Jimmy’s previous mentor, likely won’t survive the end of this sequence.
And the third sub-plot is, of course, Jimmy’s relationship with Captain Francis X. Frisano of the New York City Police. It took a long time, and lots of near-misses, for Jimmy and Frank to become comfortable with their relationship and how public it is or isn’t. Since the Jimmy McSwain Files are romance as much as mystery, Carpenter almost has to play into the tradition of throwing roadblocks in the lovers’ way. The roadblocks here start early, with discussions of career paths and public displays of affection, and build throughout the book mostly thanks to Frank’s precinct needing to investigate a robbery-turned-murder of a gay couple (clarification: only one of the couple dies). This is a rough book for “Friswain” fans, for sure. (I’m not sure if I just created a ‘ship name…) Oh, and it probably behooves me to mention, there’s lots of well-described sex between the two. Just in case anyone new to the series doesn’t know about the explicit sex already.
In addition to the strong presence of Jimmy’s family and new mentor, I was happy to see the Frisano/gaybashing storyline allowed Carpenter to bring back another fun supporting character in Terry Cloth, owner and drag-queen host of The Dress-Up Club. It’s not easy for Carpenter to work the Dress-Up Club into the narrative if there isn’t a case involving the club, but it works pretty organically here. In fact, I’d love a non-mystery novel from Carpenter set in the Dress-Up Club.
The main mystery comes to a head and co-mingles with both Jimmy’s obsession and his romantic life in the book’s closing pages – without spoilers I can say there’s a pretty serious series of gut-punches for our hero that make me think the next book or two in the series are going to be very different from the six we’ve seen so far. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it gives the author a chance to break away from any sort of formula and hopefully gives the main character a chance to grow even more.
My thoughts on the first five books in the series can be found HERE.