Coming in hot. This phrase in its military meaning of “all guns blazing” describes the first book in a new series by Jen J. Danna to a tee. The book opens with the main character, Gemma Capello, saving a life and then quickly moves to the next day, which will be the timeline for the book’s narrative. It’s a challenge for an author to take a single day in the life of a character and make that day action-packed throughout. Danna meets that challenge flawlessly. Readers will be riveted to the spot as the clock counts down on a day rife with danger and suspense. One NYPD hostage negotiator will have to keep a cool head in the face of disaster, but as the opening scene so aptly demonstrates, Gemma Capello has nerves of steel under pressure.
Gemma Capello is the only female in a family of NYPD police members and one fireman (FDNY). Her path to the NYPD Hostage Negotiation Team, or HNT, started with the death of her mother when Gemma was only ten. Watching her mother shot point-blank by a gunman in a hostage situation laid the groundwork for Gemma’s choice of career, one in which she excels, and it drives her to personalize the team’s goal of no dead hostages. But, personal tragedy only serves to strengthen her skills as a cool-headed, intuitive negotiator, not distract her. At thirty-five, Gemma is a valued and experienced team member, whose focus in life is the job.
There is one day of the year all the Capello family members of NYPD and FDNY reserve for a day-off with the entire brood. The Feast of San Gennaro is a tradition for the Capellos to come together and eat food prepared with family recipes and enjoy just being with one another. So, the day begins with Gemma and her family enjoying their Italian feast, but her father, Tony Capello, who is Chief of Special Operations for the NYPD, answers his beeping phone, and one by one, New York’s finest in the Capello gathering are called to a hostage situation of city-wide importance. Someone is in the mayor’s office at City Hall with multiple hostages, possibly including the mayor himself. All departments are on high alert, and Gemma is chosen as one of four negotiators to work at the negotiating command center. Being chosen for this high-profile case underscores Gemma’s value in the HNT. Her boss, Lt. Garcia, has handpicked the finest for this critical operation.
It’s soon determined that the mayor was out of the building when his office was seized by a lone gunman, but the deputy mayor, a close personal friend of the mayor's, is a hostage and is being singled out as a prime target. The initial contact with the hostage taker has Garcia as the voice of the team, talking to the man and trying to convince him to end the situation by releasing the hostages and surrendering. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Garcia is not a good match for handling this man, as there seems to be little rapport between the two. Gemma then takes over talking to the gunman, establishing a link of trust between them. The pressure is on, trying to save the hostages and hold off the NYPD A-team, who wants to go in with a physical show of force and gun power to end the stand-off. As Gemma uses all her negotiating skills to bring the situation to a bloodless solution, they learn who the hostage taker is and what motivates him. It’s a shocking revelation, as Gemma and her team realize they’re dealing with a man who has little to lose.
The action moves beyond City Hall and takes Gemma into some areas of NYC that will fascinate readers. From the inoperative City Hall Subway Station, with its decorative glass skylights and its colorful tiling, to the foods and landmarks of Little Italy to the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, with its Gothic architecture and catacombs, the story is enhanced by its surroundings as it propels the suspense towards an uncertain end. These places never take over the story but blend into it in an organic use of setting and story supporting one another. This author could give a writing class on achieving a successful marriage of these elements.
The police procedural aspect of this story was educational for me, as well as an absorbing part of Gemma’s life. The efforts and coordination of the NYPD negotiating team and the other departments to bring about the desired result in a hostage situation was a gripping look at how narrow is the window between success and failure in an operation. However, the story always reigns supreme in this book, and it is the family aspect which will touch readers’ hearts, how the Capello sister, brothers, and father are all dedicated to their jobs, but their family bond is the one that gives them strength. Jen J. Danna has done a superb job of introducing the Capellos and the NYPD Negotiators series to readers. No cliffhanger, but lots of avenues to explore for future books. I’m excited about this series and what Gemma and her negotiating team will face next.
Jen Danna, with Ann Vanderlaan, also writes the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries, an outstanding forensic crime fiction series of five books so far. Danna and Vanderlaan also team up under the name of Sara Driscoll for the FBI K-9s series, in which the FBI’s elite Human Scent Evidence Team uses highly trained dogs, including a black lab named Hawk, and their FBI handlers, including Meg Jennings. I am a big fan of this dog and human team, who have introduced me to a whole new, intriguing world of crime fighting. In fact, I have been a fan of this writing team and of Jen Danna solo since the beginning of publication of all these books. Jen brings to this new series, which again, she is doing solo, all the excellence I’ve come to expect of her writing and storytelling. Her dedicated research and attention to detail makes her books a trusted source of historical background for stories and enriches both story and characters. Jen Danna, who just happens to have a kick-ass background herself, as she is a scientist specializing in infectious diseases, is an author who seems to have and endless supply of captivating stories. While waiting for the next NYPD Negotiators book, readers, who haven’t already done so, can enjoy the other two series.