Chalk's Outline by J.J. Hensley
For those of you not already familiar with him, author J.J. Hensley is not only a writer and a reader but also a distance runner. The backdrop of his first novel, Resolve, is the Pittsburgh Marathon; I won't tell you too much more in case you've not read it. You should know that a gentleman named Dr. Cyprus Keller is a participant in the race...and maybe in a murder, as well.
My first encounter with Hensley's writing occurred shortly after my foray into book blogging; I'd connected with the author via Twitter, due to our mutual hobby of running, and he offered a copy of an upcoming release, Measure Twice, thinking I might enjoy it. He was right (you can read my thoughts in this post). I immediately fell in love with the characters and, while there was some mention of a previous incident during the Pittsburgh Marathon (Resolve), the novel was perfect as a standalone and I wanted to read more. While waiting for the next adventure, I read Resolve; I've not published a post on it, but it is tough to put down and I highly recommend it.
Thankfully, I didn't have to wait too long; in Chalk's Outline, I was reunited with all my favorite characters and, as I mentioned in a previous post, it felt like returning home. One of the things I love most about Hensley's novels is that they all have their own unique rhythm; for example, the buildup in Resolve is similar to that of a marathon (and only one who has actually been in that environment knows how to write about it), with a distinctive pulse. In Measure Twice, the chapters coincide with the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous; the main character is a recovering alcoholic and readers are, hearts pounding, experiencing his torturous journey in vivid detail.
His oily fingerprints were visible all over the clear bottle of whiskey on the nightstand. He added another set as he took a long pull from the container. It did not even burn anymore. How could whiskey no longer burn?
For fear you'll get the impression that these novels are all dark, doom, and gloom, another of my favorite things about Hensley's writing is his dry sense of humor and outstanding wit; intertwined with the overtures of self-destruction, the demons of past transgressions and those pesky insecurities lie some laugh out loud moments, dripping with sarcasm, that continue to surprise me.
According to Kaitlyn, I cope with life's difficulties by using jaded sarcasm, biting humor, obsessing about training for distance races, and keeping people at arm's length. Of course she was wrong. My sarcasm was smooth, my humor jovial, my running hobby relaxing, and - other than Kaitlyn - I don't have a single friend to keep at a distance. I'm perfectly well-adjusted.
Chalk's Outline brings in characters from both Resolve and Measure Twice, but you need not have read those two to enjoy this one (you should read them anyway); Hensley provides enough information for you to understand the significance of past events and there's plenty of new action. Dr. Cyprus Keller (a respected psychology professor) and Jackson Channing (former Pittsburgh homicide detective) discover that, in spite of their instinctive, conflicted feelings about one another, they have an entirely different problem on their hands.
Maybe - if it turned out he was good at killing those who needed to be killed - he could make it his mission. He could be an avenging angel. He liked that thought. He liked that thought immensely.
Keller and Channing quickly realize that they must put aside their differences and find a way to work with one another in order to protect themselves and the ones they love. While it is accurately detailed, in a way that only a former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service can pull off, the novel is also fast-paced and I found myself wanting to continue at breakneck speed to discover the fates of these characters with whom I've connected. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers and suspense, with plenty of sarcasm and snark thrown in for good measure, do not hesitate to add this one to your reading list; as I mentioned earlier, you can read this one alone, but you might also want to check out some of Hensley's earlier work, as well.