In Plain View
While I enjoy mysteries with over-the-top clever detectives (I’m looking at you, Sherlock), what I like even better are mysteries with protagonists that captivate me as people. When I started In Plain View by J. Wachowski, I wasn’t too sure whether it would really appeal to me, as its heroine, Maddy O’Hara, came across as mostly tough and foul-mouthed on the first few pages, all platinum blonde and black leather – think Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight. Maddy soon reveals a great deal of depth which, with a delightful cast of secondary characters, made the novel a great read.
The book begins with Maddy, veteran TV journalist of several war zones, applying for a position as producer at a fourth-rate local Chicago TV station. She is not happy to be there (or to be dependent on getting the job); she is even less happy when the chief editor informs her the job is hers only on the condition she team up with his nephew Ainsley Prescott, fresh from college. Maddy agrees reluctantly and is immediately given her first assignment: For a six-minute slot that is to be aired on national TV, she is provide something with local interest.
A suicide in Amish country is reported, and within minutes Maddy finds herself on the way, Ainsley in tow. At the death scene, the sheriff does about anything to get rid of Maddy and Ainsley, thus raising their suspicions. So now they have a case, and six days to make to proper feature about it.
It’s only when Maddy gets home that night that the reader understands why she is stuck in Chicago. Three months ago, Maddy’s sister died in a car accident, and Maddy left her old life behind to look after her eight-year-old niece, Jenny. So now it’s a Chicago suburb and the responsibilities of a surrogate single mother for her, and she feels like a fish out of water. It doesn’t help either that Maddy and Jenny are mourning deeply and find it almost impossible to communicate.
So while Maddy and Ainsley try to find out more about the suicide – or was it murder? -, at the same time Maddy struggles with balancing her job and her duties with Jenny, and trying to find her feet again. The relationships in this novel are depicted with great sensitivity. It is not easy for Maddy to figure out how to deal with her niece, nor does she give Ainsley an easy time of it. Then there’s the sheriff, who ends up as less of an adversary than Maddy first thinks.
The novel is presented mostly in the first person from Maddy’s point-of-view, with some scenes inserted that show us (in the third person) Jenny on the one hand and the villain on the other. I didn’t care for the latter. While these scenes definitely raised the creepiness factor, it was rather easy to identify the character, and after that the novel turned from a whodunit to a whydunit for me – interesting still, but less satisfying than it might have been.
I liked the setting tremendously. While many, many US-set novels either celebrate small-town life or the big cities, Maddy is from Chicago proper, lives in a suburb and works in the countryside. One type of place is not pitted against another here, which gave the novel a wonderful sense of normalcy. And the secondary characters! They are a delightfully mixed lot, with nary a cliché anywhere. Ainsley is a darling! And the Amish characters are more faceted than in many other novels. The ending also deserves to be mentioned, with a confrontation scene that is both immensely gripping and wonderfully realistic.
I read In Plain View with great enjoyment. Had the scenes with the villain been handled differently, it might even have attained DIK status for me. In any case, I hope that J. Wachowski is planning to write another book about Maddy. I would really like to see more of her budding romance, of her work with Ainsley, and her motorbike.