- Title: The Immortals (Taylor Jackson Series #5)
- Author: J.T. Ellison
- Publisher: Mira
- Release Date: October 2010
- Paperback, 400 pages
- My Rating: 4/5 stars
- Synopsis (as quoted from Ellison’s website): “It is Samhain—the Blood Harvest. Nonbelievers call it Hallowe’en. The night when eight Nashville teenagers are found dead, with occult symbols carved into their naked bodies. It’s a ritual the killers believe was blessed by Death himself. When children are victimized, emotions always run high, and this case has the public both outraged and terrified: a dangerous combination. Recently reinstated homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson knows she has to act quickly, but tread carefully. Exploring the baffling culture of mysticism and witchcraft, Taylor is immersed in a darkness that threatens to unbalance the order of her world, and learns how unchecked wrath can push a killer to his limits.”
- J.T. Ellison was named “Best Mystery/Thriller Writer of 2008” by the Nashville Scene. She is the bi-monthly Friday columnist at the Anthony Award nominated blog Murderati, and is known on the Twitters as @thrillerchick.
Behold the power of Twitter! I found J.T. Ellison because TV’s Andy Levy included her in a #FollowFriday Tweet way back when I first joined Twitter, in March of 2009. She was funny, engaging, and personable. (Like her live-Tweeting of some Nashville Predators hockey games! And her Tweets back and forth with her husband Randy? Adorable!) So when her books came up on one of those Amazon.Com 4-for-3 promotions, I just had to check them out. All The Pretty Girls is without question the single best debut novel, of any genre, period, that I have ever read; I cannot emphasize that enough. The protagonist is a strong woman without being cliché, the supporting characters are fully developed in their own right, the villain is horrifying yet believable, the writing is simply divine, and the Nashville scenery smolders in the background. I want to visit! But not stand-outside-her-house-with-a-boombox visit, because that would be creepy.
I was hooked! J.T. Ellison’s superb level of writing transcends the pure guilty pleasure thriller. Think less Daniel Patterson, more Harlan Coben. So when The Immortals came out just in time for Halloween, I was beyond excited.
On the surface, Ellison’s premise seems hardly believable. A coven of “evil” teenage goth-types perverting the beliefs of Wicca and murdering a slew of their fellow “good kid” classmates? *eyeroll* In the wake of this year’s recent suicides by both gay and straight victims of bullying, it seems like a “Law & Order” ripped-from-the-headlines type of ploy. But Ellison’s narration pushes and pulls and whispers and seduces you down their perverse rabbit hole of thought. Teenagers are kind of assholes when they want to be. Ramped up in the groupthink of a cult, revenge-murder seems…logical. Her writing gets under your skin more slowly in this novel, I think, because those under 18 are thought of as children. Kids are not archetypal villains, even when we have events like the Columbine High School shootings from 12 years ago as a part of the cultural lexicon. (I would like to stop and say SPOLIER ALERT for the rest of my review!)
And, rather boldly, Ellison’s struggle with the controversial doesn’t stop there. Further included in the book is a father/sister/brother triangle of incest — culminating in the murders of said perverted father and their turn-a-blind-eye mother — among the members of the murderous coven, as well as a mildly graphic rape scene against the Wiccan aiding the police investigation, Ariadne. (That is, the rape scene is “mild” in contrast with more explicit descriptions like Stieg Larsson’s in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.) More shocking than anything is what follows:
“Taylor reached for another beer. ‘Ariadne, why are you here? Why are you telling me all of this?’
‘Because you and I are linked, whether you like it or not.’ Eyes downcast, she folded her hands gently over her belly.
Taylor caught the gesture, heart in her throat. She set the beer down on the railing untasted. ‘No, it’s too soon to tell. Didn’t they give you Plan B at the hospital?’
Ariadne smiled, lips thin against her teeth. ‘I refused. Life is a gift, regardless of its origins.’
Taylor put both feet on the deck. ‘That’s a lovely sentiment, but for God’s sake, he raped you.’
‘And you killed him.’ The words weren’t accusatory, but Taylor felt like she’d be struck in the face.”
Although, maybe I should have anticipated as much, as it’s perfectly in keeping with the victim’s character throughout the novel. Of course Ariadne is introduced as a stereotypical “good witch” foil for the murderous coven, to show the reader the true nature of the Wiccan religion, but Ellison quickly elevates Ariadne into a singularly memorable individual. That the author so deftly builds these layered characters is much to her credit. This baby pushes me to meditate on the nature of evil: Is it born or is it made? I sincerely hope Ariadne maintains her friendship with Lt. Taylor Jackson in future novels.
Ah, yes! I’ve been too enraptured with the plot to discuss the series’ main characters. Most readers probably won’t be thrown off if they read this fifth book in the Taylor Jackson series as a stand-alone, but I would advise against it. The restoration of Taylor’s badge isn’t as satisfying without knowing the drama behind it. And the palpable camaraderie of police department’s homicide unit in earlier novels adds to the suffering felt in this one when a member of Taylor’s team is missing, potentially taken hostage by Taylor’s on-the-run serial killer nemesis, The Pretender. The flashbacks and hearing testimony of Taylor’s fiancé, FBI profiler John Baldwin, over a colleague’s sick and twisted involvement in the Pretender case… Well, trust me. The Pretender’s debut in the second of the series, 14, is disturbing. And it only gets more chilling as the series progresses.
Read these books. Seriously. Beg, borrow, and steal…just read them! J.T. Ellison easily makes the top 5 in a list of my favorite mystery/thriller authors for a damn good reason. I can’t wait for So Close The Hand Of Death (which refocuses solely on The Pretender) to come out in March 2011.
Confession: I almost felt guilty picking a book to review for my fledgling blog that I knew right off the bat that I would love, because supposedly trashing books and their authors gets you more readers, but I feel like it’s my duty to spread the word when I find good stuff. This, my friends? Is some very good stuff. And sexy too.
Update 11/6/2010: I’m trying not to fangirl too hard, but JT Ellison linked to my book review on Twitter!!!! Happy faces!
And book blogger Becky LeJune also offers a review of the Taylor Jackson series that’s quite interesting. Did I mention you all should buy these books?! Hahaha. So excellent.
It’s not 100% related, but I want to tell you all that a very intense and interesting film about a school shooting incident is Elephant (dir. Gus Van Sant, 2003), which you may want to check out if the subject really interests you.