Family Curse, a Fast-Paced Crime Thriller by Bruce Lewis

The Bottom Line: A fast-paced and relentlessly ominous crime thriller that readers can devour on a long flight. 

Bruce Lewis, author of the terrific thriller Human Strays, returns with his second Kim Jansen novel. Like its predecessor, Bloody Pages is largely set in Oregon and is centered around one of society’s most troubling social ills. Here Lewis explores the theme of intergenerational violence, and he does so deftly, with vivid eruptions of brutality, trauma and grief that will stay with readers long past the final page. 

The opening chapters are thoroughly engrossing, detailing the abbreviated history of four generations of the Byrne family, including Curtis, a wealthy vintner blinded by his father’s drunken abuse, and Curtis’ son, history professor Bryan. In one of the book’s most touching passages, Lewis describes the significance of the eye patch Curtis wears as the result of a childhood attack: “Years of therapy had done little to boost his self-esteem. Still, women loved the patch. They said he looked like a pirate.” The plot soon thickens as he discovers a hidden journal that reveals a century-old family secret. In all, the Byrne clan stories are so sprawling with potential storylines, they could themselves be the subject of an entire series. 

Fans of Human Strays will cheer the return of veterinarian Jim Briggs, who plays a supporting but important role. But the book’s primary focus shifts as Jansen, for whom the series is named, finally appears several chapters into the novel. It seems that someone has stolen Seven volumes of The North American Indian from the local library. It’s a curious crime. The entire series might be worth millions intact, but broken apart, could be worth as little as a few thousand dollars each on the black market. 

While Jansen is not without a heavy emotional backstory all her own, Lewis uses her primarily as an investigative instrument to solve the case. With the exception of occasional forays into Jansen’s personal life, which sustains the ominous tone established early on, the book’s second half – within the confines of a 198-page novel – becomes a police procedural. The result is a somewhat uneven-feeling story that never quite returns to the richness of the first third. With that said, Family Curse is a fast-paced, thoughtful and ultimately satisfying crime thriller that leaves us eagerly anticipating Lewis’ next book.

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