Retired FBI investigator Terry McCaleb is a man with a heart. A brand-new heart, actually.
His job chasing down serial killers for the Bureau had quickly worn out his old heart, and now Terry, recovering from transplant surgery, is determined to take it easy. But the first twist in Michael Connelly's latest thriller, Blood Work, is the discovery that Terry's life-saving new organ originally belonged to a healthy young woman named Gloria Torres who was senselessly gunned down during a grocery store robbery.
There are no leads, no clues, and despite the existence of a videotape that recorded the whole horrifying sequence of events, there are no suspects either.
It's Gloria's sister, Graciela, who approaches Terry with this information, and requests that he look into Gloria's murder. This type of crime isn't really his area of expertise, Terry explains to Graciela. Before his damaged heart forced him to quit the Bureau, Terry specialized in serial murders, which was a whole different ball game from the random killings associated with small-time robberies. Furthermore, Terry knows perfectly well that crime-solving, particularly in this case, will involve both physical and mental stress that could cause his new heart to malfunction. And Terry's surgeon, when she hears of his plan, warns him she will immediately drop his case if he goes ahead with it. Nevertheless, Terry decides to find Gloria's killer, or (literally) die in the attempt.
This is the framework around which Connelly (Trunk Music, The Poet) builds his lively and engrossing plot. Of course, nothing turns out as expected: The random killing begins to look less random; the police block Terry's efforts at every turn and eventually close in on the wrong suspect; and Terry begins to fall in love with Graciela. The only predictable development is that, despite a post-op regimen that involves piles of pills and frequent temperature-taking, Terry begins to experience serious setbacks in his recovery.
Although Terry is a new protagonist for Connelly, there are important references in Blood Work to the villains of Connelly's previous novels. This doesn't mean you need to read the other books first: Connelly does a good job of filling in the necessary background information.
If Blood Work has a flaw, it's that some of its mysteries are less than mystifying; this reader had one of the key clues nailed down a couple hundred pages before Terry figured it out. Still, the end is a shocker, and the story hangs together flawlessly.
Terry is an appealing character clever, gutsy, and very human. And despite his medical condition, I suspect he could be persuaded to take on more cases in the future. At least I hope so.
Reviewed by Nan Goldberg.