Friday, May 14, 2010

Private Justice by Terri Blackstock

book cover

Private Justice
by Terri Blackstock

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
First Released: 1998

Source: From the library.

Back Cover Description:
Staying together had seemed impossible. Now it’s their only hope.

A dark shadow of fear has fallen over Newpointe, Louisiana. First one, then another of the town firemen’s wives has been murdered, and a third has barely escaped an attempt on her life. Incredible as it seems, a serial killer is stalking this sleepy little southern community. And Mark Branning’s wife may be next on the list.

Mark is determined to protect her. But keeping Allie alive won’t be easy—not with their marriage already dying a bitter death.

Unless they renew their commitment to each other and to God, someone else may settle their problems...permanently. And time to decide is running out.

Private Justice is a fast-paced, suspenseful mystery. The mystery was a who-done-it that kept me uncertain until the end. The suspense was created by the tension between Mark and Allie due to their marriage troubles and the fact that Allie and the other firemen's wives were being stalked by a killer.

The characters made mistakes that increased the suspense, but they were very believable, human mistakes. They were smart people. The mistakes were due to ignorance or the character thought he was making the right choice (and it was a reasonable one) or the mistake was followed by the thought, "I probably shouldn't have done that...but it shouldn't matter" and they had no real reason to think the mistake was a critical one. So it worked for me.

The characters were complex and very realistic. Allie was exasperating at times, but since her parents were exasperating in the same way, I can see where she picked up the habit. I initially had a hard time caring about Allie, though, since I didn't find her very likable. I liked Mark and many of the secondary characters, though.

The author writes "about flawed Christians in crisis and God's provisions for their mistakes and wrong choices" (from her bio). So the novel had a strong Christian element with the characters discussing (and struggling with) God's character and why He let bad things happen. It was realistically handled, and I wouldn't call it preachy. Christians and non-Christians were portrayed realistically, with both flaws and strong points.

There was a very minor amount of "he cussed" style bad language. There was no explicit sex. There was no graphic gore. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
The competing sounds of brass bands, jazz ensembles, and zydeco musicians gave Newpointe, Louisiana, an irresistibly festive atmosphere, but Mark Branning tried not to feel festive. It was a struggle, since he stood in a clown suit with an orange wig on his head, preparing to make the long walk down the Mardi Gras parade route. Already, Jacquard Street was packed with tourists and townspeople here to chase beads and candy being thrown by drunken heroes. In moments, he and his fellow firefighters, also dressed as clowns, would fall into their sloppy formation on the town’s main drag, followed by the fire truck that carried even more painted firemen.

It was what promoters advertised as a “family friendly” parade—unlike the decadent bacchanalian celebrations in New Orleans, only forty minutes away. But Fat Tuesday was still Fat Tuesday, no matter where it was celebrated, and it always got out of hand. It was the time of year when the protective services in Newpointe had to be on the alert. Last year, during the same “family friendly” parade, a man had been stabbed, two women had been raped, and they’d been called to the scene of four drunk-driving accidents. It seemed to get worse every year.

Just days ago, Jim Shoemaker, police chief of the small town, and Craig Barnes, fire chief, had appealed to the mayor that the town was better served if their forces remained on duty on Fat Tuesday. Mayor Patricia Castor insisted that the community needed to see their emergency personnel having fun with everyone else. It fostered trust, she said, and made the men and women who protected the town look more human. At her insistence, and to Shoemaker’s and Barnes’s dismay, only skeleton crews were to remain on duty, while the rest of the firemen, police officers, and paramedics were to dress like clowns and act like idiots. “It’s a religious holiday,” she drawled, as if that sealed her decision.

Mark slung the shoulder strap of his bag of beads and candies over his head, and snickered at the idea that they would call Fat Tuesday a religious anything. The fact that it preceded Lent—a time for fasting and reflection as Easter approached—seemed to him a lame excuse for drunken revelry.

A police squad car pulled up beside the group of wayward firefighters, and Stan Shepherd, the town’s only detective—still unadorned and unpainted—grinned out at him. “Lookin’ good, Mark,” he said with a chuckle.

“So how’d you get out of this?” Mark asked him, ambling toward the car. “I thought Newpointe’s finest were supposed to dress like demonic bikers.”

“Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?” Stan asked with a grin. “Pat Castor wants us to show the town how human and accessible we are, so she makes us wear makeup that could give nightmares to a Marine.”

“Hey, what can you say? It’s Mardi Gras. You still haven’t told me why you’re not made up.”

“Because I refused,” Stan stated flatly. “How’s that for a reason?”

Mark leaned on the car door and stared down at his friend. “You mean that’s all it took?”

“That’s all. Plus I read some statute to her about how it was illegal for someone out of uniform to drive a squad car.”

“You’re not in uniform, Stan.”

“Yes, I am. I’m a plainclothes cop. This is my uniform.”

Read the rest of chapter one.

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