In Kingsford County, Wisconsin, Father Newberry trudges outside to speak with two aged members of his congregation, John and Mary Klienfeldt, zealous crusaders against homosexuality who have visited his church at 5 a.m. Father Newberry soon discovers that what was bothering the Klienfeldts that morning was not the presence of homosexuals in his congregation, but .22 caliber shots to the backs of their heads and crosses carved into their chests.
Sheriff Michael Halloran and Deputy Bonar Carlson (a Norwegian – and superfluous – name) are put on the case, and before they know it, a young officer is dead and they have uncovered a strange trail of changed names and addresses hidden by the elderly victims.
At the same time in Minneapolis, the colorful creators of the Monkeewrench software company are launching their new game on the internet. The company recently graduated from kiddie computer games to “Serial Killer Detective,” in which the player attempts to solve twenty murders – carried out with a .22 caliber – taking place in a city. The game is the brainchild of Grace McBride, a gorgeous, black-clad, pistol-wielding survivor whose terrifying past has left her strong, but not fearless. Her co-workers and surrogate family are sensual Fat Annie, to whom “a day without sequins was hardly worth living;” Roadrunner, a quiet, pencil-like computer genius; Harley Davidson, complete with leather and ponytail; and Mitchell Cross, the somewhat boring member of the group. The eccentric bunch banned together during college and will do anything to protect Grace, once the target of a serial killer’s game and now a possible target of “Serial Killer Detective” gone horribly wrong.
The game, already half-completed online by hundreds of players and posed to make a pretty penny for Monkeewrench, turns anything but fun when someone begins copycatting its murders, down to the most minute detail, in Minneapolis. Under the noses of Detective Leo Magozzi, Detective Gino Rolseth, and the Minneapolis police force, a young jogger turns up dead by the river, a prostitute is found draped over a cemetery’s angel tomb marker, a man is killed on the toilet during a riverboat cruise, and a woman is murdered at the Mall of America. Tracy peaks readers’ interest by including short chapters focused on the victims right before they are killed, letting readers have the first glimpse of the murders as well as the added insight that the victims trusted the murderer up until the moment of death. The scariest part of the situation – that the game includes sixteen more murder scenarios the killer can potentially act out – takes a back seat when the killer begins contacting Grace. Monkeewrench’s already intriguing plot becomes even more gripping when the detectives link the prime suspect of the Kingsford County murders to the Monkeewrench gang’s mysterious past.
Monkeewrench’scast includes a few unnecessary and distracting characters, as well as a police team of Hallorann and Danny that will leave fans of The Shining more annoyed than curious, but for the most part is made up of likable, believable people with their own personalities, histories – and secrets. Every character also has a quick wit and a joke in his or her pocket, which, though unrealistic, is nonetheless entertaining. Monkeewrench may not quite live up to all of its rave reviews (author Harlan Coben calls it the “debut thriller of the year”), but it is the type of book that thriller fans often hope to find and rarely do. That P.J. Tracy is a combined pseudonym for the mother-daughter team P.J. and Traci Lambrecht comes as a surprise; Monkeewrench has none of the disparity or tension often felt in books written by multiple authors. The plot is quick-paced and fascinating, full of suspense and just the right amount of twists, though disappointing when you figure out – and are not impressed – by the murderer’s identity long before the book’s end. Still, Monkeewrench is a fast, fun read for any thriller fan, especially one who enjoys stories that involve technology and computer hacking over excessive blood and gore.