Oh the tyranny of the second book of a trilogy! Bridging the first book to the last, it must still take its place as a relevant member of a three-book series and not exist solely as a pass-through. I’m happy to say Karma Lei Angelo’s second book in her trilogy, Abbac1, is a fine novel in its own right.
The book starts where the first book, Modi Ind0rum, left off. It assumes the reader has read the first entry in the trilogy. Our main character, Ameena Jardine, AJ, reacts to a shocking revelation which ended the first novel. From there, she continues her investigation of the murders of the Fasciata, a dangerous underworld cartel intent on selling a potent drug.
AJ has issues she’s dealing with throughout the novel. She has a partner she doesn’t know if she can trust, an informant who knows too much, a boss who is withholding information, and a missing person who she’s desperately seeking. At home, she continues to mourn her first husband, deals with the illness of her father, interacts with a daughter with a hidden ability, and must choose between not one but two romantic interests. During the course of the novel, no less than five murders occur. Described in stark detail, it becomes clear to the detectives that the murders are not random drug overdoses. When the code is finally cracked, AJ looks to be on the verge of administering justice but then…
I’m purposefully being vague on details, but found this to be an engaging and quick read. I finished the majority of the book over two days. Equal parts thriller and mystery, the pacing never lets up and leads to the reader to that important element of all middle books of a trilogy, the cliffhanger at the end. The last fifty pages make for some brutal reading. I don’t recommended it for the squeamish.
The characters become more defined in this novel as you may expect. AJ in particular grows from a rookie to confidant detective. She can be foolhardy at times and the reader may wonder “what is she thinking by doing that?” but that’s part of the charm of the story. But AJ has real emotions, and must overcome her demons, both in her mind and the ones in the world, to move on with her life.
I took a liking to Conrad, AJ’s boss, more in this novel. He came across, especially at the start of the novel, as more of a protector than a middle manager. While it’s revealed he has his secrets, there’s a sense of paternal guardianship over AJ. Her partner Tony comes across as more quixotic. The author also introduces a trio of new, reprehensible characters associated with the Fasciata who play an important part near the conclusion.
There are winsome and witty passages in Abbac1. When a medical examiner teases AJ about her feelings for her partner, she says, “Oh my, look at the eighty-nine flustered of flavors on you.” And a harmless sleepover by AJ’s partner leads to all kinds of confusion when her mother walks in on them. These scenes are a welcome break to an otherwise tense novel, including a phone call to AJ that forces her to listen in while someone is murdered. The author gives the reader a number of chilling details and then, at the end, uses them to dial the suspense to maximum. The end was certainly the best part of the novel.
Not only is the writing clever and filled with suspense, its elegant prose heightens ordinary scenes as well. At one point, AJ receives a gift of a vase. “The vase whimsically spiraled like a polished strand of DNA. Each spiral edge beveled around, and the light caught every reflection, causing it to shimmer rainbows of colors everywhere.”
Lastly, I know the first novel in the trilogy was well-researched but it really shows in this novel. The author has done her homework in spades. At one point, the main character visits a research center and asks about octopi. A detailed description follows, never slowing the story down but stuffed with information. The narrative, whether in the medical examiner’s room or describing “the breakthrough” is authentically presented to the reader.
This was a fun book to read and I look forward to the next, and last one, in the trilogy.