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THE JANES by Louisa Luna: Book Review

Janes.  At first it appears to be simply the plural of a common first name, not suggesting anything sinister.  But a number of pages into the book, I realized that each Jane is in fact a Jane Doe.  That’s the name used by law enforcement when the true name of a person is unknown or is being intentionally concealed.

In Louisa Luna’s second mystery in the Alice Vega series, these unnamed, unknown girls are totally disposable.  I use the term girls instead of women because these are teenagers, taken from their homes in Mexico, either forcibly or lured by the false promise of a better life north of the border.

Alice’s background is not given, but she appears to be a combination of a bounty hunter/private investigator.  She receives a call that brings her to the San Diego morgue and is taken to view two bodies.  The first is a teenage girl, probably Latina, looking no older than fourteen, her corpse showing bruises, cigarette burns, and multiple stab wounds.  The second is another presumably Latina teenager, similarly beaten and stabbed.

The pathologist tells Alice that the two girls were killed separately, on different days and in different locations.  Sadly, she has seen similar corpses before, but these two have one important difference.  Each had an IUD implanted in her uterus.  The medical devices have the name of the manufacturer imprinted on them, along with a serial number.  One number is 79433530, the second 79433525.  Almost sequential, Alice thinks.  “Somewhere there’s four more just like you, or not like you at all.”

It appears to the police and the FBI that there’s a sex-trafficking ring operating on both sides of the U. S.-Mexican border, and they call on Alice for assistance.  Their reason is that clutched in the palm of the second murdered girl is a scrap of paper with Alice’s name printed on it.

The local police and two federal officers offer Alice a substantial sum of money to lead the investigation, with her keeping her part undercover.   At first she tells them she isn’t interested, wondering why these agencies are offering her so much money under the table, and the answer to that question doesn’t appear until the end of the novel.  But she is persuaded, provided she can look into the case along with her partner, Max Caplan.

Alice tracks the IUDs to a local health clinic and then to the apartment of a recently fired employee.  When she goes to the man’s home, she speaks to his girlfriend and notices an anomaly in the otherwise bare, undecorated apartment.  It’s a very large painting, and something about it bothers her.  She breaks the glass with the butt of her gun, takes the painting from the wall, and removes the paper from its back.  Inside are packs of currency, perhaps twenty or twenty-five, and Alice estimates that there are several thousand dollars in all.

Alice Vega and Max Caplan are two fascinating characters.  She brings a sense of absolute fearlessness to her work, while he brings his expertise as a former police detective.  Together they are formidable, the perfect team to look into a case involving kidnappings, underage sex workers, and drugs.

The author has written a spellbinding mystery, with strong characters, a riveting plot, and an impending sense of doom that will keep readers engrossed until the very last page.

You can read more about Louisa Luna at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.