Vengeance, the second novel in J.K. Flynn’s DS Esther Penman series is a gripping crime thriller, but will also please the most discriminating police procedural fan.
A sophomore novel differs greatly from a debut novel. The first book usually represents the story the author has always wanted to tell. That’s why first novels often seem to have a breathless quality about them, the sense the author is trying to say too much. And authors often spend an insane amount of time writing a first book.
With a sophomore novel, the author has a track record. If the first one wasn’t as successful as hoped, a writer may consciously chase the genre market more with their second book. But, if the first novel was a hit, an author can feel under pressure to duplicate that formula with their second book. As a result, a sophomore novel often fails to equal the energy and innovation of the first. Within the space of the first few chapters of Vengeance, I discovered J.K. Flynn had no difficulty avoiding either complication. As much as I enjoyed reading the first installment in the Detective Esther Penman series, The Art Merchant, I found Flynn’s sophomore novel even better than the first.
Vengeance Publisher’s Synopsis
Detective Esther Penman Series #2
A MURDERED EXECUTIVE.
A MISSING STOCKBROKER.
A DRUG WORTH BILLIONS.
When a wealthy sales executive turns up dead in a Belfield alleyway, Detective Sergeant Esther Penman quickly realises there’s more to it than simple homicide. With links to a missing London stockbroker, and his firm on the brink of launching a new medicine worth billions, there’s plenty of motive for murder…
Meanwhile, Esther has troubles of her own. Having recently made an enemy of one of Belfield’s most ruthless criminals, she knows she needs to watch her back.
And she soon discovers that nothing is quite the way it seems.
As Esther finds herself dragged deeper and deeper into a murky world of corporate espionage and black market dealing, it isn’t long before she gets the unsettling sense that she herself is becoming a target.
Can Esther stay one step ahead of her enemies in her hunt for the killer?
Find out in Vengeance, the thrilling sequel to The Art Merchant.
Chingola Publishing (2023)
Genre(s) Crime Thriller, Police Procedural
J.K. Flynn | Pub Date 01 September 2023 | ISBN 978-1-7391797-2-4 | 345 pages
After a compelling prologue featuring a murder that grabbed my attention, the story opens with DS Ester Penman still coming to grips with the fallout from her experiences in the first book and the recent death of her mother. Like all good crime fiction series writers, Flynn understands the importance of providing just enough backstory on the main character so that each novel works as a standalone for those who may not have read the first book. What Flynn does so well here is that she uses the opportunity to reveal to the reader more about the protagonist and other major recurring major characters appearing in this book. This helps the reader feel he is learning something new about Penman, not just rehashing past events.
Next, DS Penman and her colleague and friend, Detective Inspector Jared Wilcox, catch the investigation of the murder of the man, Carlton Riddell, that occurred in the prologue. The murder of Riddell, a pharmaceutical company sales representative for an international biotech company that is about to release a breakthrough cancer treatment drug that could be worth billions, immediately raises our suspicions that the murder motive may involve corporate espionage. This seems likely when Penman and Wilcox recover the victim’s briefcase and find papers inside that they later learn from his employer he shouldn’t have had.
What is initially a one-off murder soon leads to a second body, and so the pacing and tension maintain a high level throughout the entire story. Penman learns the London Met is investigating a missing person case involving a man with a link to Riddell. Eventually, his body turns up with evidence suggesting it is another murder possibly committed by the same person.
Flynn maintains the reader’s interest throughout, presenting a compelling set of characters and suspects. As much as I love the flawed, but likable main character, Ester Penman, the story features many notable secondary characters to keep the story interesting, in particular, Esther’s colleague and partner Jared, who plays a central role in the story. Vengeance will satisfy the most seasoned crime and thriller readers, following the standard police procedural narrative and keeping readers guessing until the end. Flynn’s experience as a former police officer shines through her writing, giving her storytelling unique authenticity.
Flynn also explores the challenges faced by women who choose a career in a profession that historically and to a large extent even today is male-dominated. This provides one strand of the main plot that runs parallel to and supports it. But there are two other strands Flynn expertly weaves into the story. One pivots around the development of a same sex romance and the other the unexpected appearance of Penman’s biological father who she never knew growing up.
Crime fiction novels quite saturate bookstores at the moment, and I know there are many books by outstanding authors in the genre vying for our attention. But Vengeance is one of the best I’ve read this year and isn’t to be missed. The end left me eager for more Ester Penman and curious to see what she gets up to next.
Thanks to the author and publisher for providing me an advance review copy of the book.