Cooler Than Blood, by Robert Lane. Mason Alley Publishing. 316 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.
Jake Travis, Mr. Lane’s multi-skilled private investigator, is at it again. A damsel in distress taps into his needs and self-image. Jake is surprised to run into the very attractive Susan Blake for whom he had formed a quick and strong attraction a while back. He didn’t let it go anywhere, as he knows better. The understanding and accommodating Kathleen is the love of his life, and Jake doesn’t want to undermine their relationship, though he manages to do just that on a regular basis in spite of his good intentions.
Though Cooler Than Blood is billed as a standalone novel, the backgrounding of characters who are first presented in The Second Letter seems to me both insufficient and a bit annoying. Yes, it’s enjoyable and riveting in itself, but reading it after The Second Letter will add significant depth and reverberations.
Susan is reluctant to ask Jake for a favor, but she knows that he might be just the guy to find out what has happened to her headstrong niece, Jenny, who had come to live with her but has mysteriously disappeared. Eighteen year old Jenny had been last seen on Fort Myers Beach, where she had left her attacker for dead!
Jake puts his usual team together, stalwarts Morgan and Garrett, and they devise a plan for locating and rescuing Jenny – assuming she is alive and being held against her will.
A series of scenes that focus on Jenny’s predicament show that such is exactly the case. In those scenes, Jenny’s resilience and confidence are tested and important details about her background are revealed. These fascinating passages, in which we follow Jenny’s thought, memories, and emotions, lift Cooler Than Blood into a high realm of gritty achievement.
We follow Jake up and down the Gulf Coast, as he focuses first on the brothers of Jenny’s assailants and then some members of a regional criminal operation with ties to major players. The cast of characters grows, as do the opportunities for Jake to practice his skills. Often enough, he guesses wrong about one or another aspect of the case. Each failure lessens the chance for Jenny’s survival: missing persons not found quickly are often not found alive.
Jake’s attempts to engage local police in the case are met with a tepid response. This is not a case on which they want to waste their resources. Teenagers run away all the time, and they show up when they want to. As the plot progresses, questions are raised about the officer who questioned Jenny before she disappeared. The interview recording just doesn’t seem quite right.
Jenny’s life is at risk because it’s believed she knows that a huge amount money that was in her attacker’s possession is hidden. Others believe she also knows where it is. If this money was stolen, then someone out there wants his money back. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 18, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 19 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here Florida Weekly – Cooler 1 and here Florida Weekly – Cooler 2.