Life Without Parole is the second Kate Conway mystery novel. I was unfamiliar with the series and when the publisher asked if I’d like a review copy I said yes primarily because it’s set in Chicago. It’s seven months after the death of Kate’s ex-husband who’d been having an affair, which seems to have been the focus of the first Kate Conway mystery. Kate is still grieving and eventually comes to a critical insight about herself (which I won’t reveal here), but it seems to point toward a more engaged life in the future for our protagonist.
Kate Conway is a freelance TV producer. She’s working on a story featuring two prison inmates when she’s offered a second job covering the opening of a swank new upscale restaurant in Chicago. It turns out the person who recommended her for the new job is her dead ex-husband’s mistress, Vera. Readers know no good can come of that, right? Between the two inmates who are playing upon Kate’s emotions and the dramatic egos of the half-dozen or so restaurant partners, as well as the two guys that form Kate’s TV crew, there’s a lot going on in this novel, which makes for a quick and enjoyable read.
There are some interesting Chicago tidbits, such as this: anyone with as little as a 5% interest in a Chicago restaurant must be finger printed, get a criminal background check, and submit information on their finances. That seems like more than some presidential candidates are willing to do. There are also brief bits that Chicagoans can relate to, like how it never fails that when you’re driving and need to make a phone call, a cop car suddenly appears. It’s illegal in Chicago to drive and use a cell phone unless you have a head-set/hands-free device.
And then there are some interesting investigative tidbits such as fingerprints of a roommate’s showing up on an item that arrived on the scene after they say they’d left the premises (like a pizza box with a time-stamped receipt), and how people with a sense of entitlement can kill when their privilege is threatened, not intentionally, but someone just got in their way.
But there were a few things annoyed me, such as Kate’s lying to help Vera, her ex-husband’s mistress. The first lie I can begrudgingly accept, but the second time and beyond it became unbelievable. And a pet peeve of mine in amateur sleuth mysteries is when they think they’re outwitting a seasoned homicide detective. At one point Kate thinks she “captured the queen” in conversation with Makina, the detective on the case. I understand it’s a common device, but it grates on my nerves. And the cover, other than the snow, has absolutely nothing to do with the story line or location.
Overall, however, I’m happy to have read this novel and get a sense of Kate Conway. I hope she’ll have a long and happy life in Chicago.
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