In the Belly of Jonah
Review: When one of Liv Bergen's employees is killed in a most brutal — though oddly artistic — way, she's drawn into the investigation and becomes a target herself in In the Belly of Jonah, the first mystery in this series by Sandra Brannan.
Liv manages a limestone mine north of Denver, hiring college students over the summer to help bag products for shipment. When one of those students, Jill Brannigan, doesn't turn up for work, and is later found murdered, it's a shock to everyone who worked with her. But the manner in which she was found is probably most shocking of all: sitting up along the banks of a river, fully dressed, a large hole cut through her torso. She was a strong woman and almost certainly would have resisted any attack, yet there were no signs of a struggle, nor was she assaulted in any other way. She probably knew her killer, but the FBI investigation, headed by Agent Streeter Pierce, can identify no obvious suspect. But the FBI believe they know the killer, if only from his previous work, dubbing him the "Venus de Milo Murderer", based on the precise manner in which his victims were cut, then arranged. When Liv's former classmate, Lisa Henry, now an FBI agent, shows up as part of the investigative team, she brings Liv into the case in an effort to catch the murderer before he can kill again.
Typical of most serial killer thrillers, In the Belly of Jonah alternates points of view, between that of Liv and that of the killer. By way of introduction to the latter, "It was at one of these museums [in St. Petersburg, Florida] where he found his calling, his passion, his life. He discovered an artist who, like himself, could think like a madman without being mad." And later, "He would never indulge his desires with his subjects, his models for the masterpieces. Not only would it lead them to him were he to leave such DNA evidence, it might alter the models and ruin the purity of their expression. For a genius such as he, work always came first." The killer's identity is not revealed until the end, but isn't too hard to figure out, especially given the book's title.
While there's nothing seriously amiss with the plot of In the Belly of Jonah, there are a couple of disappointing aspects to it. For most of the book, the FBI team is not as smart as the killer, and it really isn't until the killer gets sloppy that the FBI's case begins to come to a close. It would have been far better had they been more evenly matched, each side making a move only to be countered by the other. And then there's the reason for Liv to be involved at all. She's to be the recurring character for the series, so her participation is not unexpected, though it seems artificial here. Finally, her nascent romantic relationship with Streeter doesn't come across as credible. In the Belly of Jonah reads more like, and is probably better appreciated as, a stand-alone thriller, not providing a strong introduction for the series character.
Acknowledgment: JKS Communications provided an ARC of In the Belly of Jonah for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Lot's Return to Sodom
Greenleaf Books (Trade Paperback), June 2011
ISBN-13: 9781608321193; ISBN-10: 1608321193
Location(s) referenced in In the Belly of Jonah: Colorado
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In the Belly of Jonah by Sandra Brannan — A Liv Bergen Mystery
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: September 2010
List Price: $14.95