REVIEW: 'Angel's Tip' by Alafair Burke

Angel’s Tip (2008) by Alafair Burke is a hardcover mystery novel published by Harper.

Angel’s Tip is a smartly written mystery that follows homicide detective Ellie Hatcher with the NYPD. This is her second outing in this purported series that started with last year’s, Dead Connection (2007).

The Manhattan nightclub scene is served up as the hunting ground for a sociopathic serial killer with a fetish. The perp seems to target single women who are late night party-goers.

Chelsea Hart, a young college student from Indiana, visits New York for spring break with two friends. The girls make one last stop at a popular nightclub, Pulse, before heading for the airport in the morning. However, the girls become separated when Chelsea refuses to leave the nightclub. It’s late, she’s alone and enjoying that one last drink of Angel’s Tip, before she wanders off alone at four in the morning.

Chelsea’s body is found early the next morning by several joggers near a construction site. She’s been strangled and her hair has been brutally cut. Among the crowd of early morning runners is homicide detective, Ellie Hatcher.

Ellie’s been with the homicide unit for one week when she is assigned the Chelsea Hart case. She and her new partner, J.J. Rogan had been doing mostly desk work while she’s supposedly “learning the ropes” of her new job. Ellie is anxious to get this case and weasels herself into this assignment.

After investigating, detecting, interviewing and arresting suspects, a grieving father’s tip to the police shifts the focus of the investigation. Instead of one random murder, there might be several that are tied together. Ellie starts to look into other cold case files that her previous partner, Flann McIlroy, nicknamed “McIlmulder” might have been looking into before his death. McIlroy was a renegade cop who was murdered following the events of a unrelated case.

A mystery, for me, is only as good as it’s villain and the detectives who go after him/her. The villain in here is methodical and predatory. Readers are briefly given the villain’s POV and I see no other purpose for them other than to frighten people into being more cautious when out late and alone.

As for the lead character, Ellie Hatcher, I liked her and since this series is about her, that’s important. I also like that she is smart and can take care of herself. Of course she has to deal with the politics surrounding her promotion to the homicide unit after five years of being a cop. This upset a lot of the men detectives who felt she skipped ahead of the line, starting with her lieutenant.

Ellie also garnered a lot of publicity with the death of her father, a cop who dedicated his life to tracking down a serial killer in Wichita, Kansas. This subplot serves as an ongoing thread that is personal for Ellie since she believes that her father’s death was not a suicide.

As for her love life, that part is interesting as well. Ellie’s been briefly dating journalist and aspiring writer, Peter Morse, who surreptitiously tries to gather info about her case to publish with his paper. Their relationship carries over from the first book. For me, Peter was a utter nuisance and I was really glad to see that he would not be Ellie’s love interest.

The man who really sets her pulse racing is Assistant District Attorney, Max Donovan. He’s working with her and her partner on the Chelsea Hart case. The two have great chemistry together and I enjoyed their frank conversations. As Ellie says in not so many words, he seems to “get it.” This scene is one that I particularly liked where Ellie and Max are on a stake out in her apartment which leads to their first kiss.

“Don’t you have an apartment of your own that you need to get to? she said.

“I do in fact have an apartment, but I have absolutely no desire to go there right now. I’m staying here until you kick me out.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t need you to protect me. Look, big gun,” she said, pointing to the holster she’d tossed on her kitchen counter.

“If you think I want to be here so I can protect you, you have seriously overestimated my manliness. I’m a pencil-neck lawyer. You’re doing all the protecting tonight.”

There are a few other noteworthy scenes to add to that one. Secondary characters, more than a few had a couple of memorable scenes themselves. While there weren’t very many scene stealer’s in here, everybody who had a role made an impression and served a purpose.

Also, the platonic relationship between Ellie and her partner, J.J. Rogan is well developed as well. Again, great chemistry. I enjoyed the interplay between the two of them and I love how each one has the other’s back. Their relationship felt real and genuine. J.J. is black, has money (or outside money) and can dress. He’s also a looker as well but he’s taken.

Alafair Burke can pen a good story and her writing is very polished. Her characters felt real. She had a leg up in the writing gene pool since her father is James Lee Burke (I need to read his books next).

As a former deputy district attorney, the author brings a wealth of information from that perspective to this story. There were a few instances where the tone of the story felt like a lecture but it drops quickly.

Another strength of this author is that she seems familiar with the pop culture of our society. The author also has a good ear for how regular people actually talk. I felt like I was reading a book that was set in my own time period for once. I could do without the serial killers thanks. However, the violence in here is not as graphic as say Chelsea Cain or Karin Slaughter. However, this probably wouldn’t be a book I would read at night, home alone, with the lights out either.

Angel’s Tip gets a B+ from me because the book is very readable, characters were well fleshed out and the mystery, while solid, the denouement was a slight disappointment, hence the lower grade. I felt duped. While suspicion was heavy on just about everybody, I thought I knew who the villain was but I was wrong. What’s worse, the villain, after much build up, goes out with a whimper (no pun intended).

Kudos to this author for not using the same formulaic devices that befall most mysteries where the villain gives the detectives his confessions before being shot to death. Plus, Ellie said she didn’t need saving and guess what? She didn’t. I love follow-through. B+.

Angel’s Tip is available in hardcover now and Kindle ebook. Fictionwise also has this title in ebook Note: The first book in this series is only available as Kindle ebook or Mobipocket format. Yes, Angel’s Tip can stand alone.

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8 Responses to REVIEW: 'Angel's Tip' by Alafair Burke

  1. Tee says:

    B+? Sounds like a good read for you and maybe another author for me to at least try, Keishon. Think I can read this one before I read “Dead Connection,” or are they too related?

    Right now, I’m also reading a new author for me–Meg Gardiner, “The Dirty Secrets Club.” I’m not that far into it; but so far, so good. Love her writing style–I’ll have to wait for judgment on story technique. I’m interested in it and hope that continues.

  2. Avid Reader says:

    While reading Angel’s Tip is spoilerish for the first book in the series, it can stand alone very well. The only thing that carries over from the first book is the subplot involving Ellie’s father. I decided not to go back and read Dead Connection but Alafair Burke is on my “author to watch” list. I really enjoyed reading this title. Very well written and never boring.

    It’s funny you should mention Meg Gardiner because right now I am reading China Lake by Meg Gardiner. I have The Dirty Secrets Club sitting on my bookshelf. I also downloaded Jericho Road and Crosscut. I like her writing style too.

  3. Tee says:

    Only 80 pages into it so far, Keishon, but I’m enjoying it immensely. An author’s writing style has to pass the test with me these days. If it doesn’t work for me, then the book pretty much gets tossed. I’m liking hers a lot. She makes every word count and doesn’t throw more in than what she needs to get her points across. She’s doing a good job of drawing her characters and I too like the rapport between Rogan and Ellie. So, it’s good to this point and I’m hoping that’ll continue as I go on. If this one works, I’m sure I’ll be reading the first one in this series. I’ll be back here again with my final thoughts when I actually finish the book.

    I don’t read James Lee Burke, but my husband does. It would be interesting to see if their writing styles are similar.

  4. Avid Reader says:

    Hey Tee – do let me know your final thoughts. I hope she’s not a disappointment for you. Re: James Lee Burke’s books, I own quite a few of them and hope to crack one open one day soon.

  5. Tee says:

    I finished it; I finished it. It was wonderful! Great writing, great story, great characters. Her dialog between characters does not seem artificial; it flows easily and is believable. What’s not to like? She’s a new author on my list and I already have “Dead Connection” retrieved from the library. I’ll wait some days to begin reading it. Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Keishon. Your review was right-on.

    And don’t you just love the titles that her father James Lee Burke chooses for his books? How off-the-wall!

  6. Avid Reader says:

    Hey Tee – very glad to learn that you enjoyed Angel’s Tip. I knew you’d like her voice/style as it is very polished (for lack of a better word). You’ll have to let me know how you like Dead Connection. I hate that it isn’t in “e” format that I prefer (edited for clarification).

  7. Tee says:

    I just finished “Dead Connection,” Keishon and I liked it a lot. It appeared to be a bit slow for me from the beginning and I’m not sure why. But it definitely picked up and then stayed that way thru to the end. There’s no question that I like Burke’s writing. She will be an author whose work I’ll be on the lookout for. To compare, “Angel’s Tip” was a skosh better; but “Dead Connection” worked just fine for me.

  8. Avid Reader says:

    I’ll see if my library has a copy. Thank you Tee. Appreciate your comments, as always. She has another series that features a prosecutor, Samantha Kincaid (I think is her name). I’d heard that it was a successful series. You might want to give those a try, too. I plan to follow suit.

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