I had read JF Freedman before and remembered I had really loved his style. Fallen Idols was an especially good mystery and tautly put together. Another I really enjoyed was 2001’s Above The Law, a legal thriller and sequel to 1999’s, The Disappearance featuring contrary former D.A. Luke Garrison. Garrison lives in the woods, kind of hiding out from a past failure in a previous life where he sent men to the gas chamber on a regular basis. He rides a Harley, wears an ear ring and has obviously left the button down,rising star of the D.A.s office persona behind. With Freedman’s gripping prose style and Garrison an engaging and fun hero, I was looking forward to many stories in a new series. But, his next book, 2002’s Bird Eye View was a stand alone. It was very good and a little more light-hearted than the two Luke Garrison novels but then I heard nothing from Freedman for two years until Fallen idols. I think that’s why I lost track of him, he seems to go two years and more between novels.
But, I was very glad I remembered him enough to pick up In My Dark Dreams. From the opening chapter he grabs you and sets such a dark, eerie mood that you are already guessing, examining and analyzing the psyche of the characters to guess who done it, and you don’t even know what’s been done yet. What’s almost as impressive is the novel is written in the first person and that person is a female. Not many male authors can pull off the female voice for an entire novel convincingly.But J.F. Freedman does.
Public Defender Jessica Thompson is a lady with a past, but not the usual past. Jessica is the daughter of an alcoholic mother who accidentally shoots her when she is like 14 or 15 and is sneaking back into the house one night. Jessica never goes home after recovering, finishing high school-at a different school-and living with an old friend of her mothers. She never sees her mother again, and though she is very young, she doesn’t really form a bond with her surrogate mother. On graduation, she moves out, gets a little flop house apartment with a string of hippy type nihilistic kids and works odd jobs. Waitressing, cashier, and finally nude model for an art class. hey, the money is great and it IS art. This goes on until one day on her twentieth birthday, she drops into Santa Monica City College on a whim. Eight years later, after drifting into it, she graduates law school and goes to work for the L.A. Public Defender. It’s now six years later, and Jessica is dating a classical musician and contemplating marriage and children and training to run her first marathon. She is out for a training run, around midnight, in the Brentwood area of L.A. when almost surreally she meets Lt. Luis Cordova who is on a stake out . There is a serial killer on the lose and he takes his victims during the full moon. He takes his third victim that night.
Jessica, being a rather junior member of the Public Defenders office picks up a client on what looks like an open and shut case and a pretty minor crime compared to serial killers and murder trials. Roberto Salazar. One night Roberto is helping a friend with a delivery of T.V.’s when the friends truck breaks down. Roberto meets the friend and transfers the load to his truck and goes to deliver them while the friend waits for a tow truck. Along the way Roberto pulls in to a mini mart to use the restroom and gets pulled over by a cop, probably because he is Chicano, no matter the accusation of a rolling stop and a flickering tail light. Any excuse will do when it is a Chicano in west L.A. at three a.m.. It turns out that the T.V.’s have been stolen from a warehouse in Long Beach and Roberto lands in jail. But Roberto is no gang banger vato. He is a pillar of hard, honest work in his poor side of town and well thought of by everyone. Never been arrested, He is happily married with children. He is a lay minister in a store front church and a devoted youth counselor. He also owns a gardening/land scape business servicing the rich in west L.A. and he also owns an old box truck that he uses to make extra money as a mover or delivery man from time to time. But, he was caught with a load of stolen goods, and he is a minority in Los Angles.
One of Roberto’s customers is the very wealthy, Amada Burgess, Los Angles royalty. Amada comes forward, and uncharacteristically vouches for Roberto’s good name and with that confidence, Jessica wins an acquittal at trial. Mean while, The Full Moon killers is still out there, even though he missed a month along the way.
A few months go by when when early one morning Roberto is sitting in his truck, waiting to start work at 7 a.m sharp. He is reading the paper and drinking some McDonalds coffee when he is approached by Lt. Cordova. Roberto, now leery of any contact with the police, figures he is being harassed but lets the police search his truck. They find nothing because Roberto of course has done nothing, but just as they are about to let him go on his way, Cordova finds incriminating evidence under the floor mat of Roberto’s truck. the Full Moon Killer has taken another female vitim and it is only a couple of blocks from where Roberto was sitting in his truck. He is booked as The Full Moon Killer and the evidence is mighty powerful.
Can Jessica have been wrong? Could Amanda’s faith have been misplaced. You’ll find out when you are seduced by this mystery/legal thriller with twists and turns to satisfy the most jaded reader.
Freedman’s prose are tighter than a good alibi, and engrossing as you could want. The characters are well written and he seems to have the ability to get inside of the head of not only Layers and cops, women and Chicanos, but the wealthy with secrets of their own. He paints this tale on a back-drop of the prejudice that covers L.A. like the smog it’s famous for and the detail in the court room is not only realistic but well researched. I can only hope he starts turning out more than one book every two or three years, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Jessica again, or even Luke Garrison and his Harley.
The Dirt Lowdown