Book Review: Private Spies by PJ Nunn—and a Few Words from the Author

Private SpiesPrivate Spies
A Jesse Morgan Mystery
PJ Nunn
Tidal Wave Publishing, June 2013
ISBN 9780615832562
Trade Paperback

From the author—

When Jesse Morgan’s boss and best friend died, she inherited Private Spies, a private investigation firm that specializes in missing persons. Unfortunately, she knew little about the business aside from her intensive work on the computer. But if Joey thought she could handle it, she felt obligated to at least give it a try. How hard could it be, right?

So Jesse took on her first case. Very straightforward. This guy is missing, find him. Oh but wait, he also kidnapped his own daughter. Find her too. Still not that hard. Except when she ran his report, the picture she found on his drivers license is of another guy. And when she found a guy who matched the first picture, he had another name. And when she found a girl that looked like the daughter, she didn’t match anything. Not good.

Enter a retired police officer named Byron (really?) who says before Joey died, he hired him to work for them. Ok. This might be helpful. But then came a stalker, and a dead guy, a dead duck and an increasing list of incidents that all seem confusing to Jesse. Up to her eyeballs in threats and questions, Jesse’s outraged when the woman who hired her decides to fire her. Unbelievable! Unable to stop at that point, Jesse is determined to find the guy and solve the case. If only it was as easy as it sounded.

Private eye novels run the gamut from  the hardboiled world of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe to the stories that are just a little too, well, cute for my taste. Actually, I can enjoy the occasional book of the latter sort but I usually don’t want to stick it out through a series. I’m happy to say Private Spies falls somewhere in the middle and is much to my liking.

When Jesse inherits Private Spies from her partner, she quickly spirals into something of a panic. Oh, sure, she’s been working there so she ought to know how to detect, right? Yeah, not so much since she could usually be found sitting at the computer while Joey did the field work. Still, it can’t be but so hard and she sure doesn’t have anyplace better to go; might as well give it a shot. When Beverly Gafford wants Jesse to find her ex-husband, the job seems like a good one to start with in her new role as a “real” investigator until searching for an errant ex  turns into a parental kidnapping. From then on, life turns into one of those amusement rides that whips you back and forth and upside down and Jesse finds herself learning the business a whole lot faster than she expected. One of the first surprises is Byron, a former cop Joey hired but didn’t tell her about.

Jesse’s a girl I’d love to hang out with. She has a snarky sense of humor that won’t quit and, speaking of quitting, she won’t even though the thought crosses her mind more than once. Jesse is a more self-sufficient version of the usual “girl-who-falls-into-detecting-because-she-can’t-find-a-job-anywhere-else” and a large part of my liking her is because she’s not TSTL. Yes, she makes mistakes but she actually learns from them. Go figure!

Oh, and Jesse has this adorable cat named Elvis, the only man she wants in her bed these days, plus she recognizes that she’s sorely in need of a wife to do the sort of household things wives usually do because she’s downright awful at it.  Jesse also hates mornings. All in all, Jesse is my kind of girl 😉

PJ Nunn has created a delightful character in Jesse Morgan and, by the way, there’s a pretty good mystery or two or three here, along with a body in her bathtub. If she’s not careful, she might become a dead body herself but, since this is the first in a series, the reader can probably figure out that Jesse will survive her first case and will, like me, look forward eagerly to her future adventures. Hurry up, Ms. Nunn!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2013.


PJ NunnIn 1998, PJ Nunn founded BreakThrough Promotions, now a national public relations firm helping authors, mostly of mystery novels, publicize themselves and their work. The business is thriving and PJ is excited about the release of her first novels, Angel Killer: a Shari Markam Mystery and Private Spies: a Jesse Morgan Mystery. PJ lives with her husband and some of their five children near Dallas, TX. Learn more at

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There’s something about connecting with a beloved series character that really is similar to finding your way down the rabbit hole. You know what you’ll find, but you don’t know. You know who’ll be there and that they’re a comfortable fit, yet surprises and new experiences with this person lurk around every corner. There’s an excitement about what happens next. It’s unequaled! And while I love many standalone books, there’s just nothing better than looking forward to a visit with a character I’ve come to know and love. Unlike friends IRL (in real life), they’re never too busy, I can fit them in my schedule at 3 am if I want to. They are dependable, but slightly more adventurous than real people and willing to go where no man has gone before.

Series characters are larger than life in many ways, yet they never seem to age. And escaping into their worlds is a wonderful way to relax and forget the troubles that are in our own lives, even just for a little while. I’ve written short stories and one book with one-time characters and they were enjoyable. But I’ve written two series with recurring characters and those people are as real to me as you are, maybe more. But it’s not just those I’ve written.

I’ll stop the world for a visit with Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. I often go back and read that series again. I also like to revisit Stephanie Plum now and then, and Charlie Fox.  My daughters made some new additions to my Cherry Ames collection last Christmas and I enjoyed going back to nursing school with her – talk about a different day and time, but so refreshing! I also especially enjoy Carrie McCrite and Henry Kind, Radine Trees Nehring’s creations, and look forward to their next adventure.

Julia Spencer Fleming’s Clare Fergusson keeps me coming back and I’m trusting that Earl Staggs’ Tall Chambers will continue in a series. There are so many wonderfully written characters that it’s impossible to name them all here. Don’t be sad if yours isn’t mentioned – chances are I love them too.

Knowing that the series character is such an important element of the book, I knew I was on to something when my daughter Kate and I were waiting to be seated at a restaurant and talking about Luke and Shari and what they were facing. My husband honed in to the conversation at one point, asking about them and making us laugh. He thought we were talking about live people. It convinced him to read the book. They are real to me.

Angel KillerIf you’ve read Angel Killer, you’ve met Shari and Luke. Shari is the protagonist, and it’s her first year on the job as a psychologist for the Dallas Police Department. She’s made a career change in her early 40s. Both of her sons are grown and have moved out; her husband passed away from cancer a few years ago and she wanted to stop pushing papers and do a job that made a difference. She’d excelled in going back to school and certainly had the talent, but once in the job, her self-esteem plummeted and she wasn’t sure if she had what it took to do the job when a decision could have life or death consequences. Truthfully, it’s not her best work. She’s vulnerable, overcompensating and in an emotional upheaval. But she seriously wants to do a good job and won’t quit. I hope you enjoy Angel Killer. The second in the series will be out in early 2014 and you’ll see that Shari’s growing and finding her own place. I love it!

Jesse Morgan in Private Spies is a whole different story. This series will often make you laugh out loud. Jesse never intended to be a private investigator, but now that she is, she’s determined not to be the laughing stock of local law enforcement. Still it seems the press sees her as humorous and their write-ups bring in the craziest cases. She can’t turn them down if she wants to make a living. Hilarity ensues. But Jesse’s not a caricature, she’s a real character with hopes and dreams and problems and solutions that don’t fit the norm, but matter nonetheless. And when you get down to the heart of the matter, she never gives up until she gets the answer she needs. Jesse’s next adventure will also be out in 2014 so be watching. I hope with my work you can add two more characters that you love to read!

But meanwhile, tell us who you like to read and why they keep you coming back?