Also by this author: 1st to Die, 3rd Degree, The Horsewoman, 4th of July, The 5th Horseman, The 6th Target, 7th Heaven, The 8th Confession, The 9th Judgment, 10th Anniversary
Series: Women's Murder Club #2
on March 4, 2002
Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
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2nd Chance reconvenes the Women's Murder Club, four friends (a detective, a reporter, an assistant district attorney, and a medical examiner) who used their networking skills, feminine intuition, and professional wiles to solve a baffling series of murders in 1st to Die. This time, the murders of two African Americans, a little girl and an old woman, bear all the signs of a serial killer for Lindsay Boxer, newly promoted to lieutenant of San Francisco's homicide squad. But there's an odd detail she finds even more disturbing: both victims were related to city cops. A symbol glimpsed at both murder scenes leads to a racist hate group, but the taunting killer strikes again and again, leaving deliberate clues and eluding the police ever more cleverly. In the meantime, each of the women has a personal stake at risk--and the killer knows who they are.
After 1st to Die released to poor reviews from critics (but still hitting #1 on the NYT list), James Patterson did what he does best: hand it off to a different author. Andrew Gross had, at the time, a few unpublished manuscripts he’d been shopping around and his ability to write women—something Patterson proved less than capable of in 1st to Die—got him the opportunity to get the game. Gross would eventually collaborate with Patterson on five novels, including 2nd Chance and 3rd Degree before launching his solo career.
Immediately, Gross’s effects are felt. The characterization is more robust, the dialogue more believable. It’s a still a pulpy crime thriller, but the characters now feel firmly set in the early 00s, rather than a 1970s dime novel. The villain is less over-the-top cheesy with a more grounded motive and an actual background as to how they could possibly pull off serial murdering. When compared to 1st to Die, 2nd Chance sounds pretty prophetic. The series should have died in book one. Having been resurrected in new hands and given a second chance, the series becomes some reasonably intense fiction.
Lindsay Boxer’s back, but she’s still reeling from the aftermath of 1st to Die. She’s spent a few months off the force, but gets called back when an attempted mass murder leaving a young Black girl dead and hundreds of bullet holes in the side of a prominent Black church. The whole choir was leaving right at that time. It’s luck that only one person was killed…or was it?
The gang gets back together, starting with medical examiner Claire discovering that the bullet placement doesn’t look accidental. The girl’s murder was purposeful, the rest of the shots were just to obfuscate. The investigation leads them to an earlier murder across town and the whole city is soon gripped by the terror of what appear to be racially motivated serial murders.
There’s a really goofy scene where Claire visits a prison where the leader of a local White nationalist group is locked up. The dude is treated like some supernatural supervillain, but Lindsay gets the information she wants out him and locks onto a suspect.
Meanwhile, in personal news, Lindsay’s dad is back. She hasn’t seen him since she was a kid and the mixed feelings of his return amid all the stress from her job leaves her reeling. Gross does a good job balancing the personal moments with action, fleshing the character out and readying her for the long haul of the series—though only time will tell if it actually goes anywhere.
Unfortunately, the mystery ends up more than a bit contrived and the whole plot twist you didn’t see coming because there’s no way you could have because there was no foreshadowing is again a problem. Also because most of 2nd Chance hides the killer from us, their motivation and abilities end up stereotypically thin. All in all, I’m glad I gave the series a second chance. It’ll be interested to find out how the series shifts when Maxine Paetro takes over in book four.