Maybe you’re sweating through the last-gasp heat wave of summer. As perspiration slides down your nose, you feel stickier than a Hershey bar in tropical sun. Your air conditioning is busted, so you sit on your porch as an ineffective fan mainly swirls the rancid, steamy air in a different direction. You lust for fresh, cool air. You can’t remember the last time you shivered.
Tracy’s latest installment of the Monkeewrench series features two colorful police detectives trying to sort out murders amid tangled webs of conspiracy and coincidence. Multifaceted characters populate the story, including Eastern European psychopaths, secretive pornographic sculptors and a psychic with an uncanny prediction.
As the story opens, Minneapolis detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth have to solve the first murder in the city in a month. They surmise it has been too cold even for killers during a winter that’s brutal even by Minnesota standards. The victim is Kelly Ramage, a frustrated spouse whose curiosity about sexual adventures leads to a secret life and a particularly sadistic and gruesome death.
Winter’s harshness permeates the story and becomes an equally important character, a testimony to Tracy’s ability to create memorable sense of place. The mind-numbing cold affects every decision and turns the investigation into an endurance test for the detectives, particularly in the first half of the story. It’s the novel equivalent of the frigid landscapes of North Dakota prairies and blood-stained snow in the Coen Brothers’ classic film, Fargo.
Here’s an excerpt from an opening chapter:
“A thin veil of snow was blowing over the city, more of an ominous mist than proper winter precipitation. The snowflakes weren’t the plump, intricately lacy kind that floated happily down from a warmer sky – they were the bitter, constipated pellets that accompanied ungodly cold temperatures.
“‘It’s supposed to be too cold to snow,’ his partner Gino Rolseth groused, as he walked into their cubicle, carrying the outdoor chill with him. He was mummified in a huge parka with a funnel hood that was suitable for an Antarctic expedition.
“‘That’s a myth. It’s never too cold to snow.’”
These shivering detectives will be familiar figures to readers of Tracy’s series of novels that includes Monkeewrench Software, a high-tech firm that often helps the police. The most interesting Monkeewrench expert in the latest story is Roadrunner, an enigmatic and generally unemotional software whiz. Roadrunner seems smitten by a mysterious woman, Petra Juric, after he rescues her from what may have been an outdoor suicide attempt in the frigid cold. Juric also could be a critical link between all that follows the death of Kelly Ramage.
The detectives learn Ramage was last seen alive at an art gallery showing the work of a controversial sculptor named Rado, whose work expresses abuse, violence and death in a way that some find powerful and others find disgusting. Either way, Rado’s sculptures appear to have inspired murder, including an earlier killing in California that the detectives connect to Ramage’s death. Meanwhile, Monkeewrench is involved in a massive bitcoin hacking investigation as it becomes clearer the parallel tracks are overlapping.
The basics of the plot and the pairing of two wisecracking detectives seems a little too cute at times. However, Tracy adeptly keeps things interesting and fast-moving. What separates the series from others is the Monkeewrench connection, which provides unlimited sources of fresh twists for the author to explore. Tracy also seems to have done her homework on plot points in areas such as hacking, cyber currency and police procedure that must ring authentically.
As followers of the author know, “P.J. Tracy” actually was a pseudonym for the unusual mother-daughter team of P.J. and Traci Lambrecht. P.J. died in 2016 and daughter Traci has continued the work.
As a Russian studies major from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, Traci Lambrecht obviously knows something about Minnesota winters, interesting characters from Eastern Europe and much more. Ice Cold Heart is sure to give you chills as the suspense ramps up, no matter the season.
P.J. Tracy was the pseudonym of mother-daughter writing duo P.J. and Traci Lambrecht, winners of the Anthony, Barry, Gumshoe, and Minnesota Book Awards. Their ten novels, Monkeewrench, Live Bait, Dead Run, Snow Blind, Shoot to Thrill, Off the Grid, The Sixth Idea,Nothing Stays Buried, The Guilty Dead, and Ice Cold Heart have become national and international bestsellers.
PJ was a long-time resident of Minnesota until her death in December 2016. Traci remains in rural Minnesota, just outside Minneapolis, and continues writing about the Monkeewrench gang.
Dennis Hetzel is the author of two award-winning thrillers, Killing the Curse and Season of Lies, that blend the worlds of politics and sports. His third novel, The Vanished, is scheduled for publication later in 2020 by Headline Books. He began his career as a weekly newspaper sports editor near his native Chicago and became an award-winning reporter, editor and newspaper publisher before retiring in 2019 as executive director of the Ohio News Media Association. He also taught journalism at Penn State and Temple universities. He has a degree in political science from Western Illinois University. His firm, Fresh Angle Communications, provides writing, editing and government relations consulting. He lives in Holden Beach NC. To learn more, visit his website.