All the Pretty Girls

All The Pretty Girls

by J.T. Ellison

An audio file of this program is available in mp3 format; click to listen.

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is All The Pretty Girls by J.T. Ellison.

J.T. is one of the founders of the Killer Year writing group, and I have yet to read any of their books that haven’t moved me, scared me, enlightened me or entertained me in some way. And it’s largely collaborative efforts like this that place books like J.T.’s in my hands at all. She’s a first time novelist, has never been on a reality show, isn’t married to a politician (as far as I know)…how do you not get lost in the sea of books that I get each week? How do you even get the attention of a publisher? Some help from your friends and mentors.

Of course it helps if you’ve got J.T.’s talent. Unlike many debut novels, this one isn’t in first person, and our heroine, Taylor Jackson, isn’t an idealized version of J.T. herself. Taylor is a Nashville homicide detective, a good one, but the case she’s working on is difficult, unpleasant and urgent, since the killer called The Southern Strangler is still taking victims, and leaving behind their hands, which, eeewww. J.T. makes this book not only about chasing down a murderer, but the relationship between high profile criminals and the press; uneasy but undeniable. (The online but oh-so-intimate relationship between an ambitious TV anchorwoman and the killer is particularly queasy.)

The attention to detail is in the forensics, which all seems pretty plausible to an occasional CSI-watching layperson like me, and that provides a nice stable framework upon which to build the looniness of the killer. We hear some chilling internal monologues and get to read some of the Southern Stranglers favorite poems, which he leaves along with hands at the crime scene. (He was apparently an English lit major — pretentious and crazy!) The contrast between the hard, realistic work of cops and FBI agents of the non-superhero variety, and the over-the-top wickedness of the crimes themselves made this book work.

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