After a flurry of explosions lights up the streets of Memphis, Lt. Julia Todd and her team of investigators have to play catch-up to stop the bombers before the next strike.
In Paavola’s (They Gotta Sleep Sometime, 2011, etc.) third thriller in the Murder in Memphis series, Lt. Julia Todd and her team are too good at their police work to avoid the heat. As soon as pipe bombs start erupting in Memphis neighborhoods, Todd acts on an instinct that values the lives of others more than her own. Act first, for better or worse, and then deal with the demons that near-death experiences can bring. The bombers’ pattern emerges over the next several weeks, as bomb after bomb targets the decision-makers at Pharaoh Health Management Systems, an insurance company notorious (although by no means unique, as Paavola makes clear) for denying valid claims based on economic expediency, essentially allowing “death panels” to decide who lives and dies. Todd’s team works furiously to predict the bombers’ next move, but they always seem to find themselves a half step behind—too slow to stop the bomb but close enough to feel the flames. Todd, meanwhile, is desperately trying to patch up a relationship that had crumbled while she dealt with the psychological impact from the last time she was seriously threatened in the line of duty. Front and center here is the dysfunction of the health care system, a topic Paavola doesn’t shy away from haranguing. Paavola indicts the system that doles out health care on a bottom-line basis: Money-gorged corporate health care executives indirectly battle the intensely angry individuals who have lost loved ones because of those corporate decisions. Thankfully, the health care debate doesn’t overburden the story, although it tends to weaken some characters on either side of the argument by painting them as caricatures. The action is nonetheless electric: There’s no shortage of bombs and smart, intense sleuthing.
A fun, keep-you-up-at-night thrill ride.