Release date: September 1, 2010
Source: review copy
In the Belly of Jonah is the first book in the Liv Bergen Mystery series by Sandra Brannan. I received a review copy from Brannan's publicist.
About the book:
Liv Bergen is in her late 20s and manages a limestone mine in Fort Collins, CO (Brannan is a fourth generation miner, so she knows what she's talking about). She's self-confident, single, and a former college basketball player. When her summer intern, Jill Brannigan, is a no call, no show for work, everyone grows concerned. Jill is a responsible, hard-working kid, and a basketball player at CSU.
Unfortunately, she's found dead. Her corpse displayed like some ghastly still-life. This is not a cozy.
There's a serial killer in the area and Jill turns out to be his fourth victim. Liv is called upon to identify her intern's body and then gets even more involved in the case when she gets a phone call from an old college friend, Lisa Henry, who is now an FBI profiler. Liv and Lisa played basketball together at UW in Laramie so its not completely unrealistic that Liv offers the FBI the use of her home while they're in town working on the case. Lisa's partner on the case is the legendary FBI agent, Streeter Pierce. Liv sticks her nose in one too many places and endangers not only her life, but her loved ones as well. As in all serial killer novels, time is running out for everyone involved.
It was refreshing to read a book that I probably would not have selected for myself. Unless its Patricia Cornwell's latest, serial killer novels have pretty much run their course with me. I've come across plenty of books by first time authors whose book summaries sound interesting but then reading the first few pages is just painful. I stop after five pages in those situations. However, I read In the Belly of Jonah swiftly and happily. I let out no groans of disbelief (which have escaped me when reading thrillers written by best-selling authors) and there were no parts of the novel that dragged on or where it lost its footing.
There are some first novel challenges, however, and my main criticism is that the writing isn't always polished. It's sometimes stiff and tells more than it shows. I also hope Brannan infuses subsequent novels with more atmosphere. I've been to Fort Collins and other parts of Colorado, but the book did not give me a feel for the area. And the blurb on the back specifically mentions "a breathtaking setting," which just wasn't there for me as a reader. Same goes for Liv's large family and their importance in her life: they didn't feel woven into the fabric of the story or Liv's life, but seemed more like props at times.
But these are minor criticisms compared to the solid job Brannan does with the plot and characters, so don't let them stop you from picking up this book especially if you're a mystery/thriller fan who likes strong women characters and if you like to read a variety of writers. The main thing is that Brannan's enthusiasm radiates throughout the novel and its obvious that she loves to write. I look forward to seeing how she develops Liv. You can go to her website and read the first chapter here.
And if you know a teenager who is a blogger or writer, click here to check out Sandra Brannan's offer to sponsor a teen to attend next year's book blogger convention in New York City. She's passionate about supporting teen writers.