J.A. Konrath's `Jack Daniels' Crime Series: A Mix of Gore and Humor!
Jacqueline ''Jack'' Daniels: Chicago's Best Weapon Against Serial Killers!
Jacqueline ''Jack'' Daniels is a Chicago cop who specializes in stopping serial killers, and during a series of books she has triumphed with tenacity, grit and humor. Author J.A. Konrath for the most part has done a great job in devising a sympathetic but not perfect heroine, a divorced 46-year-old who fears she has made too many wrong choices in her life.
She is helped by her police partner and various friends, and when the chips are down and people are dying they usually triumph.
The first Jack Daniels novel came out in 2004, and she has appeared in seven ensuing ones. She has also appeared in some other stories along the way. Here are my thoughts on the first seven books of the series (I will add the last one when I read it!).
Jack Daniels Vs. The Gingerbread Man - 2004's Whiskey Sour
Whiskey Sour introduces us to J.A. Konrath's lead character, a lieutenant with the Chicago police department named ''Jack'' Daniels. She's your typical divorced, hard-drinking cop with a personal life in shambles, and is up against a serial killer named the Gingerbread Man.
The story is told in alternate chapters, with Daniels' chapters written in first person and the killer's chapters written in third. As the bodies pile up the killer focuses on Daniels, of course, so their paths become more intertwined.
Konrath's big selling point is that he ladles humor in with the suspense and violence, and it is true that there are many funny asides. The secondary characters and situations also can be humorous.
I think this book was a good start to the series. Jack Daniels is sympathetic and easy to root for, and the people in her life (excluding the killer, of course) are interesting and fun.
Jack Daniels Faces Off Against a Killer Who Knows Her Well! - 2005's Bloody Mary
Bloody Mary is the second of the "Jack Daniels" series, and once again she is matched up against a serial killer. In this case, the killer seems to know a lot about Daniels and has access to some of her belongings, which raises the tension even higher.
There is a twist about halfway through the book that makes this more interesting and surprising, and Konrath handles it in a very satisfying way. I don't want to say more because it would give away the surprise.
Like the first book, the chapters told from Daniels' viewpoint are in first person, while the killer's chapters are third. The humor also is there from the first book, as the supporting cast continues to grow, complicate and contribute to the main character's life.
The humor is still thrown in hard and thick, though the antics of the cat strain belief. If that animal existed in real life no human would ever want it around the house.
Jack Daniels Becomes the Hunted - 2006's Rusty Nail
Rusty Nail, the third book in the Jack Daniels, continues to effectively mix the humor and violence that is the hallmark of the series. But for the first time the violence strains credibility, as the good guys get beaten, shot, tortured and continue to move forward as the body count mounts.
The case relates to the killings in the first book, and the cat from the second book plays a key part in the action at one point. One other difference -- the killer isn't shot down, leaving open the possibility of a return appearance.
Jack Daniels Vs. a Mass-Murdering Poisoner! - 2007's Dirty Martini
The humor and violence continue in Dirty Martini, the fourth novel in the Jack Daniels series. This time, the bad guy isn't a serial killer. He's a mass murderer and poisoner. But once again he focuses his attention on Daniels, who seems to be the target of every bad guy in Chicago.
The violence suffered by the good guys continues to strain credibility, and the idea that everyone of these killers is extremely disciplined, knowledgeable and seemingly impossible to catch also begins to take a toll. But still, this is a fun addition to the series.
Jack Daniels Trapped By Snipers! - 2008's Fuzzy Navel
Fuzzy Navel begins to mark a shift in the series. This time, Jack Daniels, her partner and friends are trapped inside a house that is being fired on by snipers, while a serial killer from a past book has returned to seek revenge!
The humor is getting a bit strained, though there are some good asides and Daniels' friends are great characters.
The main problem for me is that the heroes suffer so much pain and violence and continue going that they stop feeling real after a while. Daniels gets shot, falls off a house, gets beaten and continues onward. Another character uses his head to break a windshield and on and on. It really strains credibility.
A good book, but not as good as the first one or two in the series.
Jack Daniels vs. Alex Kork - 2009's Cherry Bomb
Cherry Bomb, the sixth book in the Jack Daniels series, is a let-down. The humor is more forced than in previously books, especially the scatological doings of a monkey. The violence continues to get more graphic as Daniels' arch-enemy Alex Kork hunts down her friends and allies.
But the two things that really bothered me involved the injection of sex into the books. There is an early rape by Kork that is recounted in almost too much detail, but that isn't the worst of it.
Daniels, who has just buried the man she loved, becomes rather annoying attracted to one of the supporting characters in the book while they are racing to save her loved ones from death. Even as she becomes more brutal and harsh in her determination to catch the killer, she is thinking about playing footsies with her ally. And the ending, where the two get together, comes across as a bit creepy, seeing as she uses her dead fiance's money to free her lover from prison.
Unfortunately, I think that anyone who picked up Cherry Bomb first would have no interest in reading the other books in the series.
Jack Daniels Caught By a Legendary Killer - 2010s Shaken
Author J.A. Konrath gets a bit experimental here, and it almost works. He threads together three stages of Jack Daniels life: The first case she worked on in homicide; the failure to catch a serial killer three years ago; and the present day, where she is trapped by a kidnapper. The stories jump back and forth, but Konrath is a strong enough writer that there is no confusion about what is happening.
The problem is that only one of the three strands is even close to being satisfying, and that is the first one mentioned. It is interesting to watch Jack Daniels as a young officer, getting a chance to work out of homicide. We meet characters that will play a large part in her life in years to come, and we see that she is tough enough to bring down a killer on her own.
The only awkwardness is a running attempt at humor that fails. I suppose we're supposed to laugh every time Jack Daniels makes some sort of prediction in the 1980s that we know won't come true. For instance, when she first meets the sleazy Harry McGlade at police academy, she immediately thinks that she feels sorry for the poor sap that ends up his partner -- and of course we know from the earlier books that she is the sap! There's too many instances of that to be anything other than tiresome.
The middle strand, which takes place three years prior to the book, is about a super-disciplined, highly intelligent serial killer (does Jack Daniels ever fight any other kind?) that slips away from her grasp. It's a decent story but he's a little too omnipotent for me.
The final strand is where Konrath lost me. In this strand, she spends the entire book as the tied-up next victim of the aforementioned serial killer. Her rescue comes out of nowhere, with no real set-up, and she has done nothing the entire book except be a captive. What a come-down. The ending sets up what Konrath has called the last book of the Jack Daniels series.
Jack Daniels vs. Luther Kite - 2012's Stirred
I haven't read this book yet, so I certainly am in no position to review. What I can tell you is that it is expected to be the last of the Jack Daniels novels.
This book is also different because it is a collaboration between Konrath and thriller author Blake Crouch, and it Jack Daniels' faces off against Crouch's killer, Luther Kite.
As Konrath says in an afterword in Shaken, ``...Aside from being just a fun collaboration where two writers go to war on the page, Stirred will also be something bittersweet for the authors. It will be the conclusion to my Jack Daniels series and the conclusion to Blake's Andrew Thomas series.''
I will update once I have read the book.
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J.A. Konrath on Amazon
J.A. Konrath also publishes under the names John Kilborn and writes in the mystery, thriller and horror genres. You can find his other work through this Amazon search engine. (You can also use this engine to find other items you might want, of course!)
J.A. Konrath's Sites
I first heard of J.A. Konrath because he was an outspoken supporter of self-publishing on the Internet long before most people came around to the idea. His blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing (see below) provided a lot of common-sense advice with enough of an attitude that I thought the least I could do was seek out and give the man's books a try.
And I'm glad I did. As you can tell, I wasn't thrilled with every story but I found most of them entertaining. Thrillers with lots of gore and killings really aren't my cup of tea, but if they are you will probably like at least the first few stories of the series.
- J.A. Konrath / Jack Kilborn, Official Author Site - Welcome!
Home of mystery author J.A. Konrath. Here you'll find downloads, contests, news, fiction, excerpts, blurbs, writing tips, pictures, and a few surprises.
- A Newbie's Guide to Publishing
Konrath's take on electronic publishing, and what a writer has to do to thrive in today's world. Lots of good advice and tips here.
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