Off the Grid

P.J. Tracy
August 2012, Mystery
Putnam, $25.95, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 0399158049
Part of a series

Grade: B-
Sensuality: N/A

NOTE: This review may contain spoilers for previous books in the series.

After reading the first Monkeewrench book back in 2003, I couldn’t stop recommending the book with its brooding atmosphere, exceptional characters, and brilliant plotting. I faithfully followed the series though book four – released in 2006. However,by that time my enthusiasm had started to wane. I skipped book five but with my renewed interest in mysteries, my thoughts turned back to the Monkeewrench crew this year.

If you haven’t read the books, then I don’t think book six is the place to start. The relationship between strikingly beautiful but haunted Grace MacBride, sensual voluptuous fashionista Annie Belinsky, gigantic bearded, tattooed, kindhearted Harley Davidson and the gentle, rail-thin six foot seven scarecrow called Roadrunner – the Monkeewrench crew - has developed over the length of the books. Grace’s relationship with detective Leo Magozzi has changed intensely as she learned to trust again, and it helps if you read at least the first couple of books sequentially.

At the end of book five, Grace left to go sailing off the Key with John Smith, a retiree from the FBI, and twenty years her senior. Under John’s tutelage and the peaceful cradle of the calming waters and warming sun, Grace is finally able to discard her riding boots, black jeans, black duster and gun. Still, her vigilance is not something easily shed. One night she hears an unfamiliar noise and encounters two men holding John hostage with a knife at his throat. After dispatching them with her Sig Sauer, she unearths a picture of John in their things. Confronting John, she asks what he has done to become a target and discovers that he has been using Monkeewrench software to monitor jihadist sites. After dumping the bodies overboard, John goes undercover, and Grace, like a homing pigeon, returns with John’s computer to the safety of her friends in Minneapolis.

Leo and his partner Gino Rolseth are dealing with their own problems. Five young girls ages ten to fifteen have been kidnapped off the reservation and they are called in on the case after the oldest, fifteen year old Aimee Sergeant, is found in a weeded area known to cops as Needle City or Little Mogadishu. The native mob has hooked up with the Somali gangs, kidnapping young virgins and selling them for top dollar in the Middle East. The sex trade is one of the latest enterprises the radical fringes are using to financing their terrorist agenda. Canvassing the neighborhood, two beat cops falter when they discover an open door on a house with the air conditioning running. Inside they find two young Somali men with a single bullet in the middle of their forehead. But behind a locked door is the true find – four young bound Indian girls. Of additional interest is the knife in the sink and a calendar with copious circles around October 31. The following Monday, another murder is discovered in Little Mogadishu – three dead men, two of Middle Eastern descent and one emaciated Caucasian. However, the fact that the interior of the building looks like the weapons repository at a military base soon takes precedence. Again Leo and Gino find a calendar with October 31 circled. It takes the combined skills of Leo, Gino, Grace, Annie, Harley, and Roadrunner to connect the dots and when they do, the scope of the operations is horrendous.

The beginning of the book has the mother-daughter author team’s exquisite plotting. As a reader one initially has no idea how the puzzle pieces are going to fit together, but it doesn’t matter because of the noteworthy journey. Humor crops up intermittently in the interactions of the characters, providing some needed levity. It is only as the Monkeewrench crew identifies their impending vulnerability that the book goes off track. I kept thinking someone would hit on an answer since they are so technologically savvy, but they are oblivious. A seemingly unnecessary decision by one of the characters near the end also made for a somewhat anticlimactic ending.

The interaction between Grace and Leo is very much on the backburner. While I know that some readers enjoy slow development of a relationship, I like to see more progress. If you read the books for the mystery then you will enjoy it more than if you it for the characters' journey, which is somewhat stagnated here.

With a strong “B” beginning and a “C” rating on the second half, my grade on this ended up as a B-. It is an enjoyable read but not the strongest one in the series.

-- Leigh Davis

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