by Steven Steinbock
With a heartbreaking opening and a heart-stopping conclusion, J.T. Ellison's third novel is at times disturbing, at times titillating, and from start to finish a fast-paced pleasure to read. Like her previous two novels-All the Pretty Girls (2007) and 14 (2008)-Judas Kiss features Nashville homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson and her lover, FBI profiler John Baldwin.
The main plot of the novel centers around the murder of Corinne Wolff, a pretty young housewife with an eighteen-month old daughter and another child on the way. Corinne's sister arrives at the suburban home to pick up her sister for a tennis date and finds her beaten to death with her toddler crawling through the blood. The victim's husband is the first suspect. Despite claims of being out of town at the time, his story doesn't seem to hold up. Soon an intricate web of deceit, distrust, and pornography rises to the surface.
The novel is as much about the heroine, Taylor Jackson, as it is about her case. In fact, there are almost too many sub-plots to keep track of. Taylor's lover, agent Baldwin, is involved in an operation that brings sadistic revenge home to Nashville; someone is stalking and threatening Taylor; a video of Taylor with a prior lover appears on the Internet; someone is making sex-videos using hidden cameras; and, possibly unrelated, the dead Corinne Wolff and /or her husband have a pornography studio in their basement.
Specializing in contemporary new voices like Alex Kava, Debbie Macomber, Michelle Gagnon, Heather Graham, and Kate Wilhelm, Mira Books promotes itself as the publisher of "the brightest stars in women's fiction." And Ellison's writing does have the qualities that will appeal to lovers of romantic suspense. She is effective at dimming the lights to create plenty of steamy romance between Taylor and Baldwin, yet her writing is never tawdry and will appeal to thriller-readers of either gender.
The multiple subplots don't stop Ellison from weaving a tight and powerful story. Judas Kiss moves at a rapid-fire rate, its four hundred pages rushing like adrenalin through the bloodstream. As the novel comes to a close, nearly all the subplots are neatly tied up. Ellison leaves a few elements unresolved, giving readers something to look forward to in Edge of Black, the fourth book in the series, due out in September 2009.