Jan Burke is best known as the author who gave life to Irene Kelly, the sassy, slightly hard-edged southern California journalist with a Pandoran penchant for getting herself into sticky situations. Her latest novel, however, perches adroitly on a tangential narrative branch: Burke focuses on Kelly's husband, Las Piernas Detective Frank Harriman, and in doing so turns her narrative color wheel several notches to the darker side.
Flight is really the story of two men, Harriman and Philip Lefebvre. Ten years ago, when businessman Trent Randolph and his daughter were murdered, Lefebvre was the officer in charge of the case. Moody and isolated, he became not only investigator but guardian angel to Randolph's young son Seth, left clinging to life after the attack. His colleagues and the community were convinced Whitey Dane, a local mobster with grand ambitions, was behind the murders, but when Seth was killed in his hospital bed and both Lefebvre and all the evidence against Dane disappeared, the department was left reeling in the wake of crooked-cop iniquity.
But now Lefebvre's apparently sabotaged plane has been discovered in the mountains, along with his bones. Frank Harriman must ease through a maze of anger and recrimination as he pursues the possibility of Lefebvre's innocence. But if this cop was innocent, that means another one wasn't--and that individual will stop at nothing to protect his guilty secret.
The novel's opening chapters, which place the original murders in stark relief and reveal the trap slowly closing around Lefebvre, are as good as anything Burke has written--maybe better. Their intensity is difficult to match, but Harriman's investigation still has plenty of surprises, including a nifty twist at the very end. Flight's solid writing, deftly nuanced relationships, and delicate bad-guy balance between chilling and camp are as on target here as elsewhere. Here's to Irene and Frank; long may they take turns at the wheel. --Kelly Flynn