Review: When a young woman with no memory of her past shows up at Bellevue's emergency room with the number 44 carved into her back and a business card with PI Nick Saylor's name on it, the attending intern phones him, urging Nick to come to the hospital. "[S]he's been checked in and with no memory, no ID, and no money she's officially a Jane Doe vagrant and they're going to put her in the psych ward." From which she'll never escape, is the implication. Nick heads over to the hospital and it isn't long before he is indeed helping her escape in Bolero, the first mystery in this series by Joanie McDonell.
Nick brings the woman he comes to call "the dancer" — her physique and misshapen feet give her profession away — back to his home, a barge he owns on the Hudson River, which he shares with two other men: Meriwether, a savant; and Sloane, a retired physician. Nick thinks The Dancer ought to be safe there, but he's wrong; within hours of her arrival, someone disables all power and lines of communication to the barge, breaks in and wounds Sloane, but leaves without The Dancer. At approximately the same time, the intern, who first called Nick, is murdered in the hospital. Nick calls a homicide detective he's friends with, only to learn that The Dancer may be the third victim of a potential serial killer; two other women had been murdered recently with the number 44 carved into their back. But there are enough inconsistencies in all the cases to suggest to Nick that something else is going on here.
The characters — and an odd lot they are — are probably the best element of Bolero. Nick Saylor is the (now stereotypical) flawed series lead, with a long (and not terribly interesting) backstory about how he evolved from a street kid to a reasonably responsible adult with a lucrative business that supports a fairly lavish lifestyle. But it is his unusual supporting cast that really steals the show here. The plot takes a somewhat cookie-cutter approach to the prototypical serial killer storyline with a couple of twists thrown in here and there to make it slightly less predictable than it otherwise would be. The briskly paced if also rather uneven narrative coupled with many scene changes help. Still, it takes far too long for Nick (and the police) to figure out the meaning of the "44", though it hardly seems that doing so would have helped solve the case any sooner as it is — slight spoiler — to some extent tangential to the whole story. A far too rushed summary at the end ties up lots of loose ends … and includes a explanation as to how The Dancer serendipitously came to be in possession of Nick's business card, an all but forgotten plot point that started the whole case. This series would seem to have potential, but Bolero isn't the promising start it could have been.
Acknowledgment: Thomas & Mercer provided a copy of Bolero for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Bolero: New York City
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Bolero by Joanie McDonell — A Nick Saylor Mystery
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: May 2013
List Price: $14.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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