Two Nights by Kathy Reichs (Bantom,2017)
How does a writer of a beloved series like Harry Potter or Temperance Brennan break out of their readers' expectations and try something new? For J.K. Rowlings it was the novels penned under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith; books about a maimed and very flawed private detective with the unlikely name of Cormoran Strike. For Kathy Reichs, it is the creation of a very exciting, new character, Sunday Night. That's right, Sunday Night. One almost has to laugh at the preposterous name of Reich's hot-headed new heroine who is the main character of Reich's latest best seller, Two Nights.
“Sunnie” Night, as those who know her well, such as her brother, Gus, and her savior, Beau Beaumonde, call her, is physically and emotionally scarred from her hellish past. She is nearly blind in one eye from her time on the Charleston Police Department, and she lives a hermit-like existence on Goat Island, a desolate piece of South Carolina real estate far from the rest of society.
Sunnie can't bear to be touched by another human being, and she is remote from wanting contact with the outside world. However, in an attempt to draw Sunnie back into the land of the living, Beau approaches her with a job working as a private investigator for an elderly socialite named Opaline Drucker, whose granddaughter has been abducted in an obscene bombing of a school a year prior to the old lady's first meeting with Sunnie. While Sunnie is reluctant to take the job, she feels an inexplicable pull towards the missing sixteen year old, Stella Bright, who may be dead or may be in captivity by some very evil people.
When Sunnie questions Opaline about her missing granddaughter, Opaline describes her as, “Resentful, rebellious. I believe my granddaughter was deeply troubled. That there was a darkness inside her she worked hard to keep hidden. I'm not putting this well. Do you gather my meaning?” (p.18) Sunnie, a cynical, wise cracking, hard-ass understands Opaline's description perfectly. It isn't so much the small fortune that Mrs. Drucker offers Sunnie to solve the case, it is the draw of saving someone in a way that Sunnie feels she has been unable to save herself that proves to be the ultimate lure of the chase.
Sunday Night's investigation into the missing girl and the very bad dudes responsible for inadvertently blowing up Stella's mother and brother in the school bombing, takes her all over the country. From South Carolina to Chicago to California, to Washington D.C., to the thrilling climax at the Kentucky Derby, the exceptionally tall Sunday and her devoted twin, Gus, track the killer-kidnappers in an attempt to save a girl who may be beyond saving.
What proves to be innovative and exciting about Two Nights is the manner in which Sunday Night uses her wits and uncommon female strength to outsmart her nemesis and take on men much bigger and stronger than she is. The scenes in which Sunnie physically defends herself against her enemies are spectacular.
At one point Sunnie suspects that someone has broken into her hotel room, and she waits patiently outside her door, gun drawn, ready for a deadly confrontation. “The guy came out upright but coiled, fired two shots down the corridor toward the wall opposite the one at which I was standing. He was big and wore a black tracksuit and knitted cap pulled low on his forehead. He tensed when he realized I wasn't where he'd expected. Whipped around, gun pointed at me. Crack! My left shoulder winged backward. Fire ripped down my arm. I shot him. The world ebbed as I squeezed off the round. I didn't breathe. Didn't blink. Didn't flinch at the recoil.” (p.77) Despite her wounded shoulder, this female superhero just keeps on coming, and as the reader, one just wants to scream, “You go, girl!”
Interspersed with the narrative of Sunnie's quest to find the missing teen are fascinating chapters told in the third person narrative. These vignettes form a greater whole that is revealed at the novel's end and explain the book's title, Two Nights. In fact, when I finished the novel I went back and read the italicized chapters as a whole in order to make better sense of them, once the purpose of those chapters is revealed in the final pages of the story. The effect of the double narrative is haunting and the most wonderful thing about Reich's new novel is that it doesn't leave the reader for days. I keep thinking about Sunday Night and her dark secrets. It's hard to shut out this complicated character.
Just as I am always on the “BOLO” for a new Bones book (and there is one hilarious homage paid to Reichs' long running television series based on The Temperance Brennan books in Two Nights), I am hoping that Reichs will return to Sunday Night again for future adventures. The character is truly a break-out, ready to set a new standard with strong male characters like Harry Bosch and Mitch Rapp. Bravo to Ms. Reichs for giving us a new brand of woman, flawed though she is, as a role model for a powerful heroine.