The Poet is the first title in New York Times Bestselling Author Lisa Renee Jones’ new Samantha Jazz series. Jazz is an Austin PD homicide detective pulled into a cat and mouse game with a budding serial killer titularly known as the poet. As Samantha gets closer to the case and the killer himself she is forced to confront her personal demons and the emotional baggage that came with the recent murder of her father, himself a detective on the wrong side of the law. Will the sins of her father lead to Samantha’s downfall, or will grappling with her past help her to bring a monster to justice?
I had a few problems with this book, chief among them the amount of time Samantha spends chasing an incredibly obvious red herring. This is something of a unique problem because it makes sense that Samantha would throw herself into what appears to be a perfect suspect, but we as readers know that this would defy storytelling conventions and make for an incredibly unsatisfying ending. This makes the huge amount of time spent chasing and investigating that suspect frustrating. It creates a weird cognitive dissonance where the reader is told constantly that Jazz is a badass super detective, but that doesn’t really appear to be the case to the audience because of how hellbent she is on catching someone who is never really a suspect from the reader’s perspective. Granted, that character is an evil monster all his own, but I’d be willing to wager that most readers will know immediately what his actual bag is, and may even find him more despicable as a character than the killer because he’s a more tangibly antagonistic presence throughout.
Also, the horror part of me wanted a villain that felt more Hannibal and less Criminal Minds. Keep in mind, The Poet is a procedural thriller, it’s not horror, and I’m sure crime readers will still have fun– the focus is, after all, on the investigators and not the killers, and those characters are handled very well. Still, the stronger the identity of the antagonist, the more memorable the conflict will be, and the poet himself is only halfway to being a good villain– the poetry angle is interesting, but cyanide poisoning is such a sterile, hands-off murder method that it’s usually reserved for angels of death.
These hangups are mostly based on expectation, though– they stem from being a horror fan first and foremost, whereas I imagine this is a very solid outing for fans of crime procedurals. There are two very strong elements of the writing that will keep readers invested. The first of these is the novel’s lightning pace. Lisa Renee Jones writes like she’s competing in a hundred-meter dash, and that drive to keep things moving makes the book easy to sprint through. The Poet is incredibly lean, rarely stopping to catch its breath for more than a couple of pages before moving the plot forward. After so much time in a genre that allows for plodding introspection and drawn-out scene setting this alone is enough to be refreshing.
Also of note are all the characters who aren’t The Poet himself. Jones has clearly researched law enforcement to ensure her homicide investigation team is on point and believable– individual characters are well-formed and their archetypes fit together well. The Austin PD team’s dynamic is the star of the show, offering the most resonant bits of character development and a few fun running gags. The aforementioned red herring is also a well-written character, he feels slimy and offputting from the word go even though he’s clearly a ruse. I was happy for his death even before my suspicions were confirmed, and you probably will be too.
Approach The Poet with the correct mindset– if you want a serial killer book first and foremost, you may be less than satisfied. If, on the other hand, you want something along the lines of Criminal Minds or Bones, I’m sure this will be right up your alley.
Rating 7 out of 10 Cyanide Pills