Book Review: Lone Star (In)Justice

Meg Gardiner reignites our love for suspense novels in this murder mystery with plenty of plot twists and pacing that propels

Lone Star (In)Justice

Phantom Instinct

by Meg Gardiner
Dutton, Penguin Group, 368 pp., $26.95

Austin resident Meg Gardiner is climbing the literary ranks of some pretty impressive company, and die-hard thriller fans aren't the only readers likely to enjoy her latest crime fiction starring the razor-sharp wit of main character Harper Flynn. Peppered with gruesome henchmen, brutal betrayals, friendships forged in scar tissue, and, naturally, a love triangle, Phantom Instinct leaves the reader questioning her own gut and glancing sideways at strangers.

Pain dulls and horror fades, but the past rarely disappears: "It sucked her into a recurrent loop, where memory became a kind of recidivism." Harper Flynn is bartending at Xenon, a Los Angeles nightclub, when masked assailants, undaunted by police partners on the scene, unleash a torrent of gunfire and mortally wound Flynn's boyfriend. Gardiner offers an early introduction to her villains' cold cruelty with an unordered Molotov cocktail and a lingering vengeance-fueled nightmare. Fast-forward through bereavement and hospitalization to Flynn's visual confirmation of a longtime suspicion that a third shooter is stalking victims of the tragedy. Her only ally, Sheriff Deputy Aiden Garrison, suffered a traumatic brain injury rendering reliable facial recognition and physical agility part of his past. A party of interesting misfits bulks the list of secondary characters who complicate Flynn's mission for the truth: Garrison's former partner, Erika Sorenstam (Det. Olivia Benson, is that you?); a vicious brains-and-brawn team featuring sledgehammer-wielding Zero and his canine firepower; a hyperparanoid stoner computer genius; and a quick-witted teenage girl.

Gardiner reignites our love for suspense novels with plenty of plot twists and pacing that propels. But it's Flynn's tightrope walk between a hard-knock life and her healing heart (plus a notably intricate backstory) that drives through extended scenes of tension and some staccato lines of drama reminiscent of Law and Order: SVU. Fast-paced and fun, we'll catch our breath and hope Harper Flynn makes a return.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More July Is Crime Month
Austin Author Chandler Baker Talks About Creating a Novel for the #MeToo Movement
Austin Author Chandler Baker Talks About Creating a Novel for the #MeToo Movement
Writer of Whisper Network offers a healthy dose of righteous indignation

M. Brianna Stallings, July 26, 2019

Road Tripping With a Serial Killer in <i>Paper Ghosts</i>
Road Tripping With a Serial Killer in Paper Ghosts
As well as being a riveting psychological thriller, this tale of a road trip across Texas with a serial killer shows the state in an intimate light

Elizabeth Cobbe, July 19, 2019

More Arts Reviews
Ronnie Earle, Gangbuster
Ronnie Earle, Gangbuster
Jesse Sublett revisits Austin’s criminal past in Last Gangster in Austin

Jay Trachtenberg, June 10, 2022

Inside the Seventies Weed Business in <i>Wild Times in Old Austin</i>
Inside the Seventies Weed Business in Wild Times in Old Austin
Dazed, confused, and profitable

Jay Trachtenberg, June 10, 2022

More by Jessi Cape
Gardeners and Librarians Join Forces to Catalog Seeds
Gardeners and Librarians Join Forces to Catalog Seeds
Seed banking on the future

April 22, 2022

Tips for Starting Your Seed Collection
Tips for Starting Your Seed Collection
Home gardener Jennymarie Jemison shows you how to save seeds

April 22, 2022

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

July Is Crime Month, Phantom Instinct, Meg Gardiner

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle