2 out of 4 stars
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Third Chances: A Luca Mystery Book 4 by Dan Petrosini, is a story of an investigation into a series of murders carried out by a serial killer. The killer is preying upon the members of an evangelical church that has a goal of helping people who have had run-ins with the law. Given the fanatical mindset of the killer, the church and parishioners provide an ideal hunting ground.
Police Detectives Frank Luca and his partner Mary Ann Vargas, are called in to work the case. When a second and then a third body turns up, the pressure is on for a resolution and their chief demands action. When another body turns up a few weeks later, the chief calls in the FBI for assistance, going against Luca’s wish to keep the investigation local.
Editing is competent, and the story flows well. I enjoyed the relationship between Luca and Mary Ann, though it seemed there should have been much more. I liked that Luca found himself in a position of having to make a decision of where to spend his free time: with Mary Ann who is in the hospital or a prospect from his past that has come to town for a visit. This is one of the few places we saw Luca’s humanity. I also liked the interplay dealing with the two main suspects.
My issues with Third Choices deal with characterization. For most of the story, it felt like Luca was more of a stereotype cardboard cop rather than a real person with real issues. Yes, he had some unique problems; his “pee pee alarm” for example. For me, even though his need for such a thing might be a realistic depiction of someone who has gone through bladder cancer, I was put off by it. I saw no real purpose for including such a detail in the story. Nor does the alarm come into play in any way to further the plot or present any real obstacles for anyone. It seemed an element thrown in for the sole purpose of shocking or disturbing the reader.
I also had an issue with the motives of the killer. They seemed muddled at best. In the end, we are left to question how much was mental instability and how much a conniving and calculating mind. Not all questions need to be resolved, but this one left me with confusion.
The first portion of Third Chances was well written, however, toward the end, things became too predictable. Without spoiling the ending, I’ll just say that while the issues for the state to overcome for a conviction were difficult, the collapse of the defense did not feel realistic. I would have thought there should have been much more of a fight involved.
Based on the above, I rate this story a 2 out of 4 stars. I recommend it to those who are fans of cop fiction. The police actions seem realistic, and the investigation well thought out. I realize Third Chances is the fourth in a series, and maybe Petrosini felt we already knew Detective Luca well enough. But for me, stepping into the series for the first time, I expected it to be a separate book that could stand on its own. As it turns out, I felt much was lacking. I would like to have seen more of the personal side of the characters, gotten to know Luca, Mary Ann, and the people around them better. This could have breathed some needed life into the story.
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