Box Nine

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Lenore Thomas, an undercover vice officer, knows well the underside of Quinsigamond, a New England factory city. She has an inside line on Cortez, the shadowy but powerful drug lord of the city. She is convinced that Cortez has superiors and is determined to find them.

Thomas loves her work, possibly too dearly. She is addicted to speed and has a peculiar attachment to her guns. When “Lingo,” a new drug that works on the language capacity of the brain as well as stimulating its pleasure centers, appears on the streets, she is the one tapped to finds its source. She is teamed with Frederick Woo, a linguistics expert, to whom she takes an immediate dislike. Thomas is used to working on her own and playing by her own rules, and Woo asks too many uncomfortable questions.

BOX NINE refers to a post office box that begins receiving odd packages, such as a box of dead fish. Mail carrier Ike Thomas, Lenore’s brother, discovers these packages and begins investigating on his own. Even though he lives with his sister, the two do not communicate, so their investigations proceed separately. Ike, who has never fit in with the other mail carriers, finds that he has been excluded from more than just their after-work drinking excursions. He and his supervisor uncover a criminal plot at their postal station. As would be expected, the two plot lines merge at the book’s climax, but not in any predictable way.

BOX NINE is Jack O’Connell’s first novel. It is the winner of the Mysterious Discovery contest, run by Mysterious Press, for the best first novel in the mystery genre. It lives up to its billing with tense action, intricate plotting, and vivid immediate characterizations. O’Connell presents quick one-line descriptions of people that convey perfect impressions. Rapidly switching point of view, he tells his story from all the angles without giving away any of the mystery.