May 3, 2011
Move Over Michael Connelly—Maureen Gill Has Arrived!
Maureen Gill has burst onto the crime fiction scene with her new novel “January Moon.” Gill’s first novel, and the first in a projected series, features Chicago cop Del Carter, and each book in the series will be named for a different month, with “January Moon” being a great way to kick off the calendar year and a fast-paced, page-turning series.
The title of “January Moon” refers to a strange prophecy around which the crime centers. The prophecy states that “The One who will be the Final Seed of Truth will be planted in the True Mother’s Womb under the light of the brightest January Moon.” Lieutenant Del Carter becomes involved in a crime investigation that largely revolves around this prophecy when his trucker dad picks up a young adolescent girl at a truck stop to protect her from some unsavory characters only to have her end up dying in his truck. The girl, known as Sunny, turns out to be the niece of Del’s fiancée Jess. And just as shocking, Sunny has died from female genital mutilation being performed on her innocent young body.
In the investigation, Del joins forces with several other cops as well as the FBI. Among Del’s compatriots in solving the crime are Fred Wiley, a somewhat ornery homicide investigator with his own secrets about a past relationship, and an officer Wiley nicknames “Eggs” because his last name is Benedict, although “Eggs” isn’t smart enough to get the joke. While solving the crime and bringing about justice, these characters discover they have their own personal issues to work out, making the reader as or more interested in the characters and their relationships as in solving the crime.
In time, the investigation leads to a cult group on a compound in Illinois that is known as the All Faith Jerusalem Church. Sunny’s mother, Evelyn, is not only a member of the cult, but she is the one who created the prophecies. The cult claims to embrace the best of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, while rejecting that Christ is the world’s savior; instead, the cult believes a new savior will be born according to the January Moon prophecy. The leader of the cult, Jim Harte, is known as the Prophet. He claims to be a brilliant theologian, but he is also the tool of those who would use him to extort money from his followers and set up means to drain people’s bank accounts electronically. Jim is also assisted and used by his sister, my favorite character in the book, Rae Harte—who doesn’t love a good villain? Rae has become her brother’s protector and comforter, but she also has her own agenda. She is wonderfully described in the book as behaving like “the Terminator playing Blanche Dubois” and as a female Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rae was apparently sexually abused in her past, and she decided to develop the strength of a man to make sure no one can hurt her again; the other characters speculate that she is on steroids, and she nearly brings Wiley to his knees when she shakes his hand.
To say much more about the plot would be to give too much away, but I will say that author Maureen Gill has assembled a large cast of intriguing characters with plenty of subplots that all come together for a dramatic and satisfying final showdown. I was impressed by how much she included in the book, and the way she ties everything together makes the writing flow effortlessly. The cast of characters is a lot larger than the few I have mentioned here, and Gill is so talented that she can introduce a character with just a few sentences and make the reader remember who that character is even if he or she doesn’t appear until many pages later. Unlike many such novels, I was never once lost or confused. Such character development, especially of minor characters, is rare, yet Gill has mastered it.
Being from Upper Michigan, I also appreciated the introduction of “Yooper” characters, who are a bit exaggerated in their accents and strange habits, but all in good fun. Maybe if we’re lucky, in a future novel, Del and Wiley will have to chase a character into “da U.P., eh?”
“January Moon” had me hooked from the first page, and I hardly set the book down until the dramatic ending, and then I only wished the next book had been published already. The book’s 360 pages makes it a substantial read, not a quick and easily forgotten mystery, and that allowed me to enter fully into a complex fictional world that was a wholly believable depiction of Chicago and the surrounding area. Gill left me wanting more—especially to find out what will happen to the characters in future books. The series is named for Del Carter, but ultimately, Wiley is the character I most hope will show up in future books. Gill left a few things about the characters’ relationships hanging, so I suspect several of the characters will return again. If so, February can’t come soon enough for me.
Because of the pacing and character development, I don’t think I have been so hooked by a contemporary crime novel since I read Michael Connelly’s “The Poet” many years ago. For a first novel, “January Moon” is an astonishing achievement, and I hope eleven more novels will quickly follow.
For more information about Maureen Gill and “January Moon,” visit www.maureengill.net.
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. and author of the award-winning “Narrow Lives”
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