A Jackie Swaitkowski Mystery by Chris Knopf
Review: Hamptons attorney Jackie Swaitkowski had stopped to feed some local horses a bit of sugared candy when a small airplane begins a slow, inexorable and uncontrolled descent from the skies into the field where she's standing in Bad Bird, the second mystery in this series by Chris Knopf.
The plane misses both Jackie and the horses, but the female pilot dies in the ensuing crash … but not before she throws a large camera case from the plane, it landing within feet of where Jackie has fled. She turns over the case and its contents, which had spilled out, to the police, but later notices that she inadvertently overlooked giving the authorities the camera's memory card that is still in her pocket. Being an officer of the court — her business card clearly spells this out — she does so, but not before looking at the odd assortment of five pictures it contains. The police, meanwhile, are focusing on the pilot's husband, who is also the plane's mechanic, as a person of interest in the suspicious crash.
This case, of course, was sort of different. There was nobody to defend, no one charged with anything; at least not yet. There was only a dead lady pilot and a grief-stricken husband. But I felt I had a stake in the proceedings. I was the one who'd seen the plane crash. More important, I saw the look on [pilot] Eugenie's face as she passed overhead, filled with a combination of determined calm and anguish beyond understanding. I knew I'd never be able to let this one go. No way, nohow.
Jackie does take on Ed Conklin, the husband, as a client, but her defense depends on finding who may have wanted Eugenie dead … and why.
The two books (so far) in this series are written with a much lighter touch than Knopf's other mystery series, also set in the Hamptons and featuring independent carpenter Sam Acquillo (Jackie was introduced as his attorney in this series), yet the characters are as richly developed and the plots as intricately devised. There is also a personal subplot here, normally an unwelcome intrusion in a mystery, that is cleverly interwoven and integrated into the primary storyline, contributing both substance and depth.
But what clearly elevates this book — indeed, this series — above so many of its peers is the character of Jackie Swaitkowski, one who is often "so tangled up in personal, ethical, and professional conflicts" yet manages to work it all out to everyone's satisfaction. There's a somewhat poignant scene towards the end of this exceptional mystery where Jackie returns to the scene of the plane crash.
I looked at the sky and saw only the tiny, distant gleam of a commercial jet, safe in the air above, free from the corruption and duplicity down here on earth. The last time I'd stood there I was confused about something, though now I couldn't remember what it was. I was still unsure about many things, but no longer confused over the essentials, at least as they related to the fate of Eugenie Birkson.
Acknowledgment: Minotaur Books provided a copy of Bad Bird for this review.
Review Copyright © 2011 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
The Permanent Press (Hardcover), May 2010
ISBN-13: 9781579621988; ISBN-10: 1579621988
Minotaur Books (Hardcover), June 2012
ISBN-13: 9781250005175; ISBN-10: 1250005175
Location(s) referenced in Bad Bird: The Hamptons, Long Island, New York
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Bad Bird by Chris Knopf — A Jackie Swaitkowski Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: February 2011
List Price: $25.99