With just two cases on the written page, Cass Raines has solidified herself as a vital constituent on the long roster of crime fiction heroines. By sliding directly into an unfortunate void within the hard-boiled private eye canon, Tracy Clark champions diversity via execution rather than evangelization.
As Borrowed Time begins, Cassandra Raines feels like the task of serving court summonses is tedious and boring, but once embroiled in her latest, more serious case, she will regret longing for the adventurous. When Jung Byson – a friend-ish of sorts – begs her to help figure out what happened to Tim Ayres, Cass can’t resist even though common sense tells her to stay out of it. Ayres is a member of a wealthy Chicago dynasty – a fact that only piques Cass’s interest further, but also makes her job that much more difficult.
It does not take too long for Cass to discover that Tim Ayres was terminally ill. The party-line is that Ayres committed suicide in an attempt to bypass a more painful and prolonged end-of-life ordeal. Simple enough, except that everything Cass uncovers seems to point to murder. Who would kill a dying man? And why?
This case once again brings Cass into direct conflict with the Chicago police. As a PI she can (or at least does) bend the rules more than those in an official capacity should, so there is a fair amount of frustration – and maybe a small dose of jealousy – on the part of the authorities. Cass really isn’t trying to show how incompetent they might be, but if that is end result of her following the various leads, she also has no problem with that outcome. Her goal is always to solve the case for her client…and to get paid.
Further road blocks to her investigative process include the victim’s family who refuse to be cooperative, mysterious threats and actions that put Cass’s own life at risk, and some on-going personal remorse left over at the conclusion of the first book in the series, Broken Places.
There is a reason Tracy Clark was recently nominated in the Shamus Awards’ “First Novel” category: She knows the PI tradition and allows her plots to unfold in the expected manner. Each new clue leads Cass down a different path until a fuller picture begins to emerge. Working in a sub-genre known to be dominated by a dark, often depressing, ambiance, Tracy Clark’s tone remains serious without ever becoming stodgy.
In the end, however, it all comes down to the strength of that lead character. Cass Raines is a pull-no-punches lead who takes no guff from anyone, but also is not an annoyingly perfect role model. Cass can more than hold her own physically compared to the male stereotypes that predominate this sub-genre. She runs (toward the action), climbs, fights, and is never one to shy away from any challenging dilemma. Cass is also witty, strong-willed, and extremely clever. By building a diverse and quirky support group for Cass, Tracy Clark brings the city of Chicago to life. Each reader will have specific favorites among Cass’s cohorts, but that just means there is enough fodder for years of books in this series.
The investigation in Borrowed Time monopolizes most of this novel’s page count, but readers hoping to see developments in Cass’s personal life – specifically her love life – are rewarded with a few seeds that are sure to blossom as the series progresses. There is little doubt that readers will be eager for Tracy Clark to continue to document that adventures – and misadventures – of Cass Raines with many more novels.