Third Degree (Double Blind book #3) by Dan Alatorre [Review]

Mix a secret high-society orgy party, a serial fire-bombing murderer, and two detectives having a romantic relationship crisis, and you have the ingredients for an entertaining crime thriller from Dan Alatorre. Mr. Alatorre is a favorite of mine and I read the first book in this series, but not the second. There was obviously some development of the relationship between Sergio and Carly (the detective team) in book #2, but it’s easy to pick that up here in book #3 without missing a beat. The story moves at a brisk pace and is well-written, with deep and fascinating characters, an intricate plot, and a dash of humor.

The detective team from Tampa travels to Georgia to assist the investigation of two fire-bombings at an exclusive lake-side community outside Atlanta. The two bombing/murders tie into a wealthy family that owns half the property at the lake, and which has some dark secrets. Carly and Sergio are dispatched as part of a multi-state serial murder task force. (OK, it could be the FBI rather than two Tampa detectives, but go with it.) It’s also Christmas Eve, which makes everyone want to solve the case quickly. The entire investigation covers only two days, which compresses the action and keeps the pace moving.

From the beginning, the author gives us the killer’s-eye view of some scenes. We get inside the killer’s very disturbed head as (he or she) plans the next bombing. As Sergio and Carly scratch the surface of the case, the killer is planning for an even bigger target. It’s a race against the clock until midnight on Christmas Day for the detectives and the local cops to unravel the clues and prevent a catastrophe. The tension level remains high throughout.

An early scene finds Carly and Sergio are bickering about their relationship issues while an armed robbery suspect lies on the ground in handcuffs. When the criminal tries to say anything, Carly and/or Sergio yells “shut up” so he doesn’t interrupt their argument. This is great comic relief in a tense and intense story.

The premise and set-up for the story are great, the characters are well-drawn and the writing is a pleasure to read. I liked the first book in the series, Double Blind. Here, there are several issues with the plot and specific details within the story that give it a feeling like it was rushed to publication. The compressed timeline means that Carly and Sergio need to uncover a complex set of facts in just a few days. Consequently, witnesses must share key information quickly and willingly, despite some of that information involving secrets that have been closely held for decades before. Other leaps of logic help the plot along. Then, at the conclusion, the wrap-up includes several impossible points of legal procedure. These flaws can be overlooked as the story careens forward toward its exciting conclusion, but it leaves the feel of an episode of a television show that was rushed to conclusion. There’s plenty of action and many secrets to be revealed and mystery for the reader to try to guess. It’s an enjoyable and entertaining read from an excellent storyteller.

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