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When my sister was in town a few months back, she enthusiastically recommended the "Monkeewrench" series, written by "P. J. Tracy", the nom de plume of a mother-daughter writing team. I was a little dubious, because "Monkeewrench" came off a little too tea-and-cozyish, Jane Fletcherish, maybe there would be a cat detective or two, and… Well, my tastes run elsewhere.

First clue that I was wrong: an inside-the-cover blurb from the late Robert B. Parker: "Monkeewrench is funny and convincing. P. J. Tracy's taut storytelling makes me jealous." OK, that's good enough for me. As it turns out, there's a grim and gripping tale at the core of book, and it's fleshed out well with interesting and sympathetic characters.

It's set in Minneapolis and small-town Wisconsin. Cops in both locales are mystified by recent nasty clue-free homicides. Also involved is the titular "Monkeewrench" clan, a secretive, brilliant, close-knit group of software engineers. They are wildly successful at writing educational software, but have decided to branch into games, specifically "Serial Killer Detective", challenging the player to solve murders that—oh oh—are being re-enacted in Minneapolis meatspace.

It's a page turner, all right. As the book winds along, it begins to be more than a tad contrived, with events working out just so to provide the requisite pulse-pounding conclusion. But I enjoyed it none the less for that.