The book opens with a standard job for Jinx, but shortly after being outed, she is blacklisted by her bail bond agency, leaving her one option for work. She has five days to hunt down Holly Schwartz, a seventeen-year-old disabled girl, who was recently charged with the murder of her mother. Following her trail leads Jinx into the sight of Milo Volkov, a Chechen mobster and sex trafficker who develops a discomforting obsession with Jinx after she disrupts an FBI sting operation in one of his bases of operation.
Jinx herself is an entertaining character, with elements of the average crime protagonist, but with several refreshing, humanizing qualities. ““According to the map, the cabin should be a mile ahead on the left.” Tree branches scraped the side of the Gray Ghost, like fingernails on a chalkboard. So much for my new paint job.” Her evening might be occupied by chasing criminals, but she cosplayed Wonder Woman the previous morning. She practices parkour and krav maga, but she drives an old Nissan Pathfinder. She is a fully fleshed-out character, and while I know that Kelleher has since written more books from her perspective, if I didn’t, I would still have been immediately aware of Jinx’s series potential. In the very first chapters, I could see the potential for continued bounty hunting.
At first, I struggled with the cinematic nature of the book, as most of my experience with the crime genre comes from the noir or hardboiled side of things, with gritty realism taking more of a center stage. However, as I read on, I thought about it. How many cinematic trans characters can you think of? Did they get a happy ending? Was it even a positive portrayal? I certainly couldn’t think of any characters like that. The underrepresentation of the LGBT+ community in fiction is familiar discussion, but it stands repeating that the more positive representation we have, the better. I am not so naive as to believe that well written, positive portrayals of LGBT+ characters, like we find in Chaser, will end bigotry, but every little bit helps.
The book keeps you primed, eager to see the conclusion. While Jinx’s interactions with her family and friends were often my favorite parts of the book, the action scenes, acrobatic chases and lightning-fast gunfights, were always just plain fun.
“I ducked as a burst of automatic gunfire shook the air. Bullets rattled the fence and ricocheted off the back wall. I turned and saw two other guards shooting at us. I pulled off three shots at one guard, hitting him in the neck and chest. I aimed at the other and was about to pull the trigger when his head whipped back in a cloud of gore as Conor brought him down with his Bushmaster.”
Kelleher expertly weaves multiple plot threads together, yet never makes any of them feel less important than the others, which makes the book evenly enjoyable throughout. The worst part of some stories can be the pacing, with a great beginning and end held down by a sluggish middle. Not Chaser, though.
Ultimately, Dharma Kelleher’s Chaser is a fun book, which is often the best thing to ask for. It deftly foregrounds LGBT+ issues, while delivering with tension and the release of that tension in a crime novel. Well written and well paced, it’s easy to devour, and leaves you eager for the next book in the series. The ending was satisfying, and sets clear routes to sequels, that I very much look forward to reading.
Rider Barnes is a writer from Revere, Massachusetts and Associate Editor at Tough. This is his first publication.