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Review of "Black Friday" by Alex Kava

I have been reading Alex Kava novels since 2003, and never before have I been disappointed. This book at just under 300 pages feels like almost 500. It is slow moving, and relies on conspiracy theories (and the fact that the reader knows these theories) to move the plot along. In this book, Special Agent Maggie O’Dell, a profiler for the FBI, is called in by the Interim Director to investigate a series of explosions inside the Mall of America on Black Friday (according to the book this was Nov. 23, but unless it takes place in 2007 that is not possible since 11/23/09 was a Monday).

My first major problem came after Maggie received the phone call. Instead of immediately getting ready, she and her friends gather around her television to watch Fox News to see what is being reported. This makes little sense to me. It seems that if Kava wanted to create a sense of urgency, she would not have had her main character standing around talking to her friends about the Interim Director’s reasons for bringing her in on the case. My next problem is that it seems that in order for Nick to be present in several of Maggie’s investigations, he needs to change jobs left and right: Sheriff, lawyer, and now security consultant? This is starting to get ridiculous. Another problem was the lack of her circle of ancillary characters, which were only present at the beginning and end of the book. Yet another problem was the fact that unbeknowst to Maggie her half brother (referred to as her step-brother, although they have the same father) was tangentially involved in the bombing. It took more than half of the book for her to find that he was there, despite the fact she saw someone who looked like her father in the lobby of the hotel the investigation is headquarted at.

My biggest problem, however, is Kava’s use of the Oklahoma City Bombing to further the plot. Technically, this is not a spoiler, but the antagonist is allegedly John Doe #2, the man believed to have helped McVeigh and Nichols plan and execute the attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. This wasn’t the only national tragedy that she used either. She also mentions Columbine, Virginia Tech, 9/11, and the mass killings at a Nebraska mall a few years ago. These seemed to be present for shock value, and did little to help the plot along.
Further, there was almost no character growth in this novel. Maggie is still untrusting, especially of Nick, who doesn’t trust her either. Patrick doesn’t know or trust Maggie, going so far as to “think over” whether he wanted her help with his situation. This was so implausible to me. If you are a suspect in a terrorist bombing and your sister is part of the investigative team, wouldn’t you run to her for help? No matter how little you know each other, there is no reason not to accept help when it is offered. In the end, he is the only one that seems to have grown.

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