The Pawn, by Steven James.
A Book review:

For anyone who enjoys thrillers, I strongly recommend The Pawn. This is Steven James’ first fiction book and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s not only an enticing mystery but a trip into the real lives of career specialists, employed to track down serial murderers. This story is a lot like virtual bungie-jumping. It allows the reader to grab all the excitement of the chase without the danger of being grabbed yourself. It’s the closest I ever want to get to a serial murderer!

The Main Plot:

The protagonist, Patrick Bowers is a detective specializing in environmental criminology and Lien-Hua Jiang, his assistant, a criminal profiler. They are teamed up in the hot pursuit of a killer who tortures and kills young girls. Bowers and Lien-Hua are sharp professionals with a spicy chemistry and are both likable and believable. The main plot focuses on intricate cutting-edge methods in stalking a criminal, but the story has enough interesting sub-plots to give the brain a breather.

Sub-plots:

The sociopath called, The Illusionist, is the typical sicko. The chapters devoted to him are written from his perspective, revealing his twisted motives and emotions. Oddly, The Illusionist  has an obsession with professional magic; he uses it to seamlessly pull off his crimes. If you have no interest in magic, this may be a good sign of mental health.

Another layer of the story involves his daughter Tessa. She’s experiencing severe grief over the death of her mother and anger at her forever busy, mostly absent father. This becomes the trigger for self-cutting. On a high note, I think Tessa’s battle will give parents a whole new level of understanding to this epidemic problem. On a low note, poor Tessa, by some eerie twist of events, becomes a point of interest for the killer. Yikes! A third plot-line is about a devoted single mother and her child. Unfortunately, the mother is next on the killer’s list. As I watched them going about their daily lives, completely unaware of the impending danger, I became a little worried that I may lose some sleep. So, I took an ice-cream break. The next day I boldly returned to the story, ready for the inevitable pounce.

A Personal glimpse:

The way I look at it, the side stories use the emotional part of the brain, giving the reader a break from the cool logic of FBI case-solving strategies. The geographical science Patrick Bower uses to track the killer is fascinating, but be prepared to put on your thinking caps. For me, when a crime story focuses only on FBI tactics and police protocol, vacillating between high-tech strategy and violent death, I become a little overwhelmed. But, when I get a sense of really knowing the characters, I’m able to enjoy the thrill of their daily jobs and yet peek into their personal, after-hours lives. This gives me a bit of an emotional escape AND satisfies my curiosity. I want to know how these cliff-hanging characters manage to have a normal life under the pressure of such high-risk jobs. Maybe they don’t.

It’s the Little Things:

Every reader is different, but I enjoy the little things: For instance, I enjoyed finding out that Bowers is a coffee connoisseur that can actually identify where the coffee bean originated from simply by its aroma. I also enjoyed entering his thoughts as he viewed the breath-taking landscapes of North Carolina. It was amusing to read about his lingering glances and witty conversations with Lien-Hua, and his fun camaraderie with his associate and buddy Ralph. All these pleasantries were a comforting diversion from a story of tortured girls and occasional bodies being sawed in half. Yes, we all read murder and suspense stories for the thrill, and we crave just enough anxiety to keep our hearts madly beating, but it’s only human to want a break from the carnival ride of fears—too much of a good thing syndrome. I try to use these tactics in my upcoming novel, Dark Motives, but sorry guys . . . no torture or sawed-off limbs.

One Negative:

My one negative comment is the distracting narrative the story takes into the Jim Jones cult. It was very interesting but again, distracting.

Conclusion:

All in all, The Pawn is not only a nail-biting story of dark suspense, it’s a passage into people’s lives. It had fear, passion and a wholesome message. I like a good thrill, but I also like to return to my everyday life feeling like I’ve just took a jaunt on higher grounds.

If you find out you really like the book, there’s two more in the series.