Review: The Tunnels by Michelle Gagnon

Title: The Tunnels

Author: Michelle Gagnon

Publisher: Mira [2007]

ISBN: 978-0-7783-2446-1

In the debut novel from this author, bodies of two female college students are discovered the tunnels beneath a prestigious American college and FBI Agent Kelly Jones is called in to lead the investigation into their murders. Due to the nature of the killings it seems likely that a serial killer is responsible. One of the dead students is the daughter of a wealthy man who employs ex-FBI Agent Jake Riley as his head of security and asks that Riley be allowed to assist in the investigation. Much to Jones’ annoyance her superiors say yes to this request and she and her partner Roger Morrow are saddled with Riley and his sometimes unorthodox behaviour.

Familiarity does, as they say, breed contempt and I have read so many serial killer themed books and watched so many serial killer themed TV shows that I wholeheartedly (and undoubtedly mistakenly) believe I could give a pretty accurate profile of your ‘average’ serial killer if called upon (though why I would ever be so called upon is a mystery). Because I’ve overdone crazed serial killers I do tend to stay away from them in my fiction these days but I had a reason for tracking down Michelle Gagnon’s work and so dove in.

The story is a good one with a few really unexpected twists and a nice build-up of tension. The way Jones and her team put the case together is generally believable and Gagnon manages to achieve a nice balance between explaining the insider jargon of the investigators to readers and not clunking up the story with dull details. I assume that’s not nearly as easy as it sounds because a lot of writers fail to do it. I found some of the side action, such as reading about the effect of the killings on the college’s new President, to be just as interesting as the main story and it added a real sense of authenticity that’s often missing when all the action involves only victims and investigators. I would have liked a less clichéd resolution though, as there were a couple of “oh no, you’re not going to use that device are you” moments which spoiled what was otherwise a good, solid story.

Kelly Jones is someone I could envisage in the role of an FBI agent which, again, is not always the case. She has some baggage which is slowly revealed over the course of the novel but not enough to make her dysfunctional, and at the end of the book I found myself wondering what she would do next (a question I can answer at my leisure as I have the second book in the series waiting in Mt. TBR). The rest of the characters, including Jake, were a bit under-developed to be truly engaging but there’s potential.

Perhaps one of the reasons I found this book so credible is that there is a fairly extensive tunnel system underneath my city and I spent quite a bit of time in them a few years ago. I was there for a rather dull work purpose rather than for hunting serial killer purposes but I did often ponder that they’d be the perfect setting for a murder or three. Anyway, I enjoyed this trip back into the world of evil serial killers more than I thought I would. It was creepy and odd enough that I knew it was fiction (I really don’t want to read about things that might have actually happened to real people) but realistic enough to make me pull the bed covers over my head (just in case).

My rating 3.5/5

Other stuff

I tracked this book down because Gagnon is one of  the group of professional writers who publish The Kill Zone, a great blog about writing, the publishing business and associated topics. I’ve ranted before about publishers and authors who don’t ‘get’ web 2.0 so when I see people who do understand the medium’s potential I make it a point to track down their work (although I did use bookmooch to acquire both of Gagnon’s books which is probably not exactly the financial reaction the Kill Zone authors are looking for).

Reviewed at Mysterious Reviews

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8 Responses to Review: The Tunnels by Michelle Gagnon

  1. Dorte H says:

    What one learns when visiting other people´s blogs!
    – Bernadette underground, that was new to me 🙂
    Mostly I enjoy books with serial killers but that is probably because I don´t read that many. I choose crime over thrillers, and that way I don´t come across too many serial killers.
    Nice review, and thanks for your concern. I am probably going to stay in bed a day or two, but as long as I can read I never feel too sorry for myself.

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  2. Mack says:

    Interesting you should mention that Michelle gets the potential for web 2.0. I learned about her in Second Life. Because I try to work with the mystery genre as a librarian there, she sent me an invite to an interview she was going to have with a Second Life writers group. I couldn’t make it but I did see a poster for Boneyard which led me to buy it.

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  3. Maxine says:

    Sounds an interesting book. I recently posted about crime fiction cliches, and perhaps “Vietnam flashback syndrome” might be one of them, though it is a cliche of Hollywood movies rather than books, perhaps. In any event, the first of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, The Black Echo, is about tunnels under LA, and the main character is a Vietman vet “tunnel rat” who has, yes, flashback syndrome, but in a good way (ie not a cliched way!). Connelly occasionally alludes to this tunnel experience in later books (not always), most particularly in the climax of one of the most recent Harry B books – either The Overlook or Echo Park, I am not sure which.

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  4. Hi Bernadette. Great review. I actually met Michelle Gagnon at Bouchercon last year and she’s absolutely lovely! I still haven’t read her work yet, but she’s in my TBR pile too.

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  5. @Mack – I should check out Second Life – bandwidth here in my part of the world is so woefully slow that I’ve put it off for ages but the idea of writers groups hanging out there has me tempted

    @Maxine – this might get me evicted from the crime fiction fan club but I’ve never read a Michael Connelly book. There are a few authors who have so many books in print that I don’t want to start at the beginning of their series so I don’t know where to start – maybe I’ll chase up the tunnel book

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  6. Maxine says:

    Quite a few people I know have not read Michael Connelly! I very much enjoy his books – the Harry Bosch series is the longest, starting with The Black Echo. There are a couple of other series too, which subsequently intersect with Bosch novels. If you want to try a more recent one, The Lincoln Lawyer a couple of years ago, with its recent follow-up The Brass Verdict, are perhaps good to start with. As a fan of the police-procedural genre I am very keen on this author; he writes very well about emotions as well as the usual crime fiction plots, etc.

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  7. Thanks Maxine. I’ve added The Lincoln Lawyer to my library list – think I’ll start there as going right back to the beginning is just too daunting.

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