Legendary thriller novelist J.A. Jance returns to the Ali Reynolds universe and throws Our Heroine into even deeper conflict with The A-List.
Alexandra – Ali – Reynolds was once a high-profile broadcast journalist, but she’s retired to a life of relative comfort with her husband, running their cybersecurity firm High Noon Enterprises in Sedona, Arizona. As this is her fourteenth adventure in the world of murder and mayhem it’s safe to assume that life has had its ups and downs by this point.
But then a very personal crime occurs. The death of her friend, true crime author and Progeny Project founder Alex Munsey, shocks Ali – and causes her to go back to review the very first news story she ever reported upon. What had begun as a feel-good tale of a young boy needing a kidney transplant being reunited with his heretofore unknown half-brother and eventual donor, morphed into a medical mismanagement case at a fertility clinic that ultimately landed Doctor Edward Gilchrist in jail for orchestrating the murder of his ex-wife, Dawn, who was prepared to testify against him.
Gilchrist, who’s been carefully exchanging medical advice and contraband for favors behind bars, also involves his wealtht mother, Hannah, in doing his dirty work on the outside. Through a fellow inmate, Luis, they arrange for Luis’ niece Gloria to act as a hitwoman. Ali soon figures out that while Gilchrist is behind bars for life, he’s exercising revenge on every person who wronged him – the titular A-List – and after three more victims fall, Ali’s name appears to be the last on the list.
Mommy issues run wild in this particular volume of the Reynolds saga; from Gilchrist’s infantile and tangled relationship with his mother to the fact that the base case for the murder spree involves sperm donation. At the center of it is Ali, who stays smart and cool-headed as she wends her way through the mystery with plenty of help. The author does a great job making one’s skin crawl imagining someone so evil and so weak-souled handling materials so precious to a person’s existence, and Ali makes a fun, strong and compelling heroine.
But The A-List has one pretty big flaw and it’s nearly fatal – we know from the start who’s trying to kill Ali, and who has killed her friends. The only real thrills and suspense we get out of the situation coagulate around the question: how will Ali trap this pervert and his accomplices? Thanks to the superior intelligence supplied by Ali’s husband. and his sources and Ali’s own nose for news, you know it’s inevitable she’ll escape with her life, so the tension levels are pretty low.
What really does work is how the book’s best passages take us into Hannah’s sociopathic mind, her self-centered thoughts and motivations; she ultimately becomes a compelling, complicated monstre sacré who steals the spotlight from everyone else. Other recurring characters pop up and amuse; Sister Anslem, Ali’s confidant, returns and is a delight – the Archbishop wants to replace her with a younger model as his special emissary, but she’s not here for it.
But even with its compelling villain and heroine, it’s ultimately the very, very slow pace and lack of tension that fails to keep The A-List alive.
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