Although Nashville is the site where all the action occurs in J.T. Ellison’s strong mystery novel All The Pretty Girls, the style, tone, careful thematic development and character interaction share many things with works set in other cities.
Ellison’s book not only introduces several intriguing, complicated and quirky personalities, but also has the attention to detail, unexpected twists and puzzles that are vital to topflight crime fiction.
The extra bonus for local readers is her knowledge of Music City, and the conflicts that are interspersed throughout the book between the traditional and the contemporary, the established order and the emerging new communities, and the impact of growth and increasing urbanization on a place that once fancied itself a small town rather than an large metropolis.
Homicide Lieutenant Taylor Jackson represents both the new breed of police officer and the modern Southern woman. Though she lives in Belle Meade and was a debutante, Jackson isn’t anyone’s demure type. She had to deal with cynicism and prejudice while working her way up the ladder, and she’s become familiar with departmental politics and the misguided views of old-timers reluctant to accept change. Jackson’s good at dogged investigation and at playing hunches, but isn’t reckless or overconfident.
Away from the job, she can be both aggressive and playful, Jackson also isn’t intimidated by anyone or anything, and doesn’t let the ugliness of her chosen profession affect her personality and life.
She’s currently involved in a romance with FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin, and the two find that business and pleasure are intersecting when they become part of a joint investigation seeking the identity of the Southern Strangler. This individual isn’t some charming rogue or folkie anti-hero. Instead, it’s a brutal killer who leaves a souvenir at each crime scene, the prior victim’s severed hand.
The couple soon finds their steps being dogged by an ambitious television reporter Whitney Connolly, the embodiment of many things that are wrong with 21st century media.
Connolly is overly ambitious, ethically challenged and anxious to escape an environment she considers beneath her. She acquires some information that could break the case, only she lacks the knowledge to understand what she has or the good sense to share it with the people who could utilize it properly.
As the joker in the deck, Connolly threatens to not only derail the investigation, but also become another victim of the Southern Strangler.
Besides including some spicy dialog and entertaining scenarios and situations, Ellison’s portrait of Nashville and its residents is on the mark.
This isn’t a work that casually covers the city. Rather it’s a volume that displays her admiration for its residents, love and knowledge of its special characteristics, and the desire to communicate those to others.
As the first of a planned three-volume series, All The Pretty Girls not only provides a stirring welcome for Taylor Jackson and her comrades, but sets the table for future adventures.