A Jackie Swaitkowski Mystery by Chris Knopf
Review: Jackie Swaitkowski's latest client has a family connection: he's accused of killing the uncle of her late husband, an eccentric Hamptons landowner hated by the half of the townspeople that didn't already think him a pompous jerk, in Ice Cap, the third mystery in this series by Chris Knopf.
This isn't the first time Jackie has represented Franklin Delano "Franco" Raffini. In prison on a murder conviction, she got his sentence reduced. When he was released early, she got him a job working for, and living on the estate of, Tadzio Buczek, her uncle by marriage. It is during a raging blizzard that Franco found Tad — his head smashed in — and called Jackie, begging her to make the trip out to the house … and who subsequently calls the police. It doesn't look good for Franco and, as is wont to happen in these situations, the picture worsens when the police find what caused Tad's injury: a bloody block of ice with Franco's fingerprints frozen on it. Interestingly, though, it wasn't the head wound that killed him, but a sharp object that had been thrust into the spine just below the skull, murder weapon as yet unaccounted for. More bad news for Franco: his previous murder conviction was the result of him inserting a barbecue skewer into his victim.
Jackie Swaitkowski is a terrific series character, one who is just a little rough around the edges but is finely honed when it comes to defending her client. The dialog in this series — indeed, in all of Chris Knopf's mysteries — is crisp and to the point. Consider this brief exchange between a reporter and Jackie from early in the book:
"Have the police established a motive yet?"
"There is no motive."
"There's no motive because Franco didn't kill him," I said.
"What makes you say that?"
"I'm his defense attorney. I only defend innocent people. And I don't comment on active cases."
"You sort of just did. You said Raffini was innocent."
"Okay, but that's as far as I go."
But of course it isn't, as she and Roger work together on the case.
It's entertaining following along with Jackie as she explores the motives someone might have had for killing Tad … but a little frustrating when they largely come up blank. Which contributes to both this mystery's strength … and its primary weakness. As Jackie muses towards the end, "Much of the time, the most important fact or angle on a case is right in front of your nose, and you just haven't see it yet, or given it the proper interpretation." When all is said and done, it really is quite a simple case — cleverly and deceptively simple, to be sure — which means that most of the book is a "path inadequately traveled." (Another creative use of words by the author.) It's an enjoyable journey with its whodunit, howdunit and whydunit elements, but, given how it all plays out, it's ever so slightly disappointing that the reader doesn't have the satisfaction of realizing the outcome.
Acknowledgment: Minotaur Books provided a copy of Ice Cap for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Minotaur Books (Hardcover), February 2011
ISBN-13: 9780312551247; ISBN-10: 031255124X
The Permanent Press (Hardcover), September 2012
ISBN-13: 9781579622831; ISBN-10: 1579622836
Location(s) referenced in Ice Cap: The Hamptons, Long Island, New York
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Ice Cap by Chris Knopf — A Jackie Swaitkowski Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: June 2012
List Price: $25.99