Notorious by Allison Brennan is the first book in the Max Revere series, where the renowned TV investigative reporter with a passion for cold cases is dragged back to her hometown to confront the murder that made her who she is.
It may not be true that behind every great crime-stopper there’s a personal connection to a crime, but sometimes it seems that way. America’s Most Wanted was born from the horrible death of Adam Walsh, and the murder of her fiancé derailed Nancy Grace’s plans to become an English professor and turned her into the passionate victims’ rights advocate she is today. The relationship between the media and crime goes far beyond the editorial policy of “if it bleeds, it leads.” Crime fiction writers have traditionally relied on journalists to tell their stories, and more often than not, those reporters have a vested interest in solving the crime.
These days, when writers choose media figures as their protagonists, they are much more likely to bypass print reporters (like Edna Buchanan’s alter-ego Britt Montero) and pick people whose careers span the transition from print to pixel. And so it is with Alison Brennan’s 21st novel, Notorious. Maxine “Max” Revere hosts an extremely popular cable crime show that only airs monthly but has enough of a fan base that she can’t travel incognito, not even to the funeral of an old friend.
When a couple approach her inside the San Francisco Airport, Max’s first instinct is to give them just enough celebrity contact to send them on their way with a little bit of a glow. But then they rock her world by linking their concern—the murder of their grandson—to Max’s past. And suddenly the past and the present collide. Yes, Max senses a story. But more importantly, she sees an opportunity to answer a question that has haunted her for years. Who killed her best friend Lindy Ames?
Max often thinks about the trajectory of her life…
As a young adult, Max never considered that one day she would write a book that graced the shelves of her favorite bookstore. She’d planned on being a travel writer, photographing hidden treasures around the globe, writing stories about interesting cultures and people and events. Interviewing locals and tourists to find out what made each destination so special. Searching, perhaps, for a place she wanted to adopt because her current home never fit the meaning behind the label.
But life has plans, her mother told her three months before she walked out on Max. As if life itself was capable of independent thought.
Life has plans, Maxine. Sometimes they’re not what we want, but we don’t always have control.
Max never believed her mother until her best friend disappeared during their last spring break of college and Max spent a year of her life searching for answers. Though she consciously made the decision to change her career path, she wondered if her vivacious, irresponsible mother was wiser than she’d given her credit for.
Back in the place Max thinks of as her hometown, she's confronted anew by the mystery of Lindy’s death while dealing with another old friend’s death, putting the investigator into overdrive. And like many a real-life crime-solving celebrity, finding out what happened becomes an almost holy quest—one that makes her impatient with cops and civilians who have a nine-to-five mentality or with yet another assistant who doesn’t like working weekends.
Max had found that to be a problem with many of her assistants. Intellectually, she understood that most people didn’t intend to give up their social life when they took an office management job, but Max didn’t work nine to five. She tried to do her part to give grieving families justice after the horrific loss of their loved ones. The cops sometimes can’t— or won’t— search for answers because they’re too overwhelmed or uninterested. Some cases fall through the cracks—like Jason Hoffman— and someone like her can dig it out and shine light on the evidence once again. Is it too much to ask that an assistant actually work when needed instead of traipsing off for a skinny latte every hour on the hour? Max had made it clear when she hired each of her assistants that the hours would be difficult, but she’d make up for it with generous paid vacations and flexibility.
In the end, finding out the answers to questions old and new is more than a story to Max. But as with real life, the line between self-interest and public interest is somewhat blurred. Brennnan’s fans will not be disappointed by the debut of Max Revere, whose job starts where the cops leave off.
Listen to an audio excerpt from Notorious!
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Katherine Tomlinson is a former reporter who prefers making things up. She was editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and the publisher of Dark Valentine Magazine. She edited the charity anthology Nightfalls. Her dark fiction has appeared in Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir, Luna Station Quarterly, and Eaten Alive, as well as anthologies, including Weird Noir, Pulp Ink 2, Alt-Dead, Alt-Zombie, and the upcoming Grimm Futures, which she also edited. Her most recent collection of short stories is Suicide Blonde. She sees way too many movies.