Unfortunately, that appears to be precisely the situation facing Minneapolis Police Detective Gino Rolseth, his partner Leo Magozzi, and the Monkeewrench computer crew in Shoot To Thrill, the fifth entry in P.J. Tracy’s Monkeewrench series. It’s been four years since the last book in the series was released, and in addition to giving readers a satisfying dose of Harley Davidson, Grace MacBride, Annie Belinski and Roadrunner, aka the Monkeewrench crew, Shoot To Thrill also introduces a strong new character to the mix, FBI Special Agent John Smith.
Smith, whose “life had always been about as ordinary as his name,” is only six months away from mandatory retirement from the FBI after 30 years of service when he suddenly finds himself in charge of an investigation into a series of video clips posted online which appear to depict actual murders. Despite having determined that all the clips originated from the same location, the FBI is unable to trace the videos back to their ultimate source due to extremely sophisticated masking techniques employed by the person or people posting them.
Enter Monkeewrench, which Smith enlists to help trace the origin of the clips, as well as to design a software program that will be able to run an analysis of similar videos posted online to determine if they depict real murders or are staged ‘murders’ posted by copycats seeking their 15 minutes of fame. Detectives Rolseth and Magozzi, veterans of working cases with the Minneapolis-based Monkeewrench crew, find themselves drawn into the Federal investigation when Monkeewrench discovers a video indicating that a local death the detectives recently investigated, one which initially appeared to be an accidental drowning, was in fact a murder connected to the series being investigated by Monkeewrench and the FBI.
That law enforcement personnel would find themselves in the position of investigating a series of murders committed, filmed and posted online purely for the purpose of attention seeking and one-upmanship is a disturbing concept, one which may have even seemed far-fetched not too long ago. But the relatively recent proliferation of online social networking sites has changed both the way people act as individuals, as well as the way they interact with others. Online anonymity gives people ‘keyboard courage’ to spew hatred and intolerance, to give voice to their darkest thoughts, and allows them to find easy acceptance and encouragement from other like-minded people, all without leaving the comfort of their home. It’s almost as if the web, one character in Shoot To Thrill argues, “is normalizing deviant behavior.”
And there is quite a bit of deviant behavior to be investigated in this outing, all done with the usual Monkeewrench flair. The black humor and banter between Rolseth and Magozzi is as sharp as ever, Annie makes her presence known with the expected outrageous attire and attitude, and lovable stickman Roadrunner even ventures into new fabrics. Harley, still big on bluster and cholesterol, has his mansion “invaded” by the feds in the form of Agent Smith, who moves in for the duration of the investigation, and despite their long-standing mistrust of the authorities the interaction between Smith and the Monkeewrench crew, particularly Grace and Harley, provides some of the best character development readers have been treated to thus far in the series… including a Hell of a “Didn’t see that coming!” ending.
The wait for Shoot To Thrill was a long one for fans of the series, but the passage of four years between its inception and ultimate release has actually placed the book in a position where the concepts explored in it have moved beyond theoretical and into reality*. In that regard, Shoot To Thrill is more than just a highly entertaining read for mystery aficionados, it is a timely exploration of a technology obsessed society that lives increasingly in an impersonal online world that offers people limitless opportunities to explore their basest desires, without requiring them to accept responsibility for their actions.
Well done, Patricia and Traci. Now how ‘bout not making us wait another four years for the next one?
Shoot to Thrill is available from Signet Select (ISBN: 978-0451413055).
– Shoot To Thrill (titled Play to Kill in the U.K.): Book Trailer –
*As evidenced by recent cases in Florida, New York, Texas, and the so-called “happy slapping” phenomenon in Britain, all of which involve people committing acts of violence against someone, filming it, then posting the video on YouTube. And those are just a small sampling, as a Google search will easily turn up dozens of similar examples.