Ben Wade, a former LAPD detective now working homicide in the southern Orange County town of Rancho Santa Elena, is forced to confront his own dark past in investigating a series of killings.
Four years ago, Ben moved back to Santa Elena, the town in which he grew up, to escape the stresses of the urban beat. Followed by his demons, he was unable to save his marriage, and he's pained to watch developers transform his bucolic hometown: "It was like watching a virus consume the soft tissue of land." Now, Santa Elena is also threatened by a serial killer preying on women who don't worry about locking their doors or windows. And when a teenage Mexican boy—a "Juan Nadie," or John Doe—turns up dead in a field, a bullet in his head and a gun in his hand, it's apparent that a second killer is on the loose. After the teen is identified as a member of the high school swim team, on which Ben was once a star, the detective must revisit his painful adolescence to track down the person responsible for the kid's staged suicide while negotiating the unhappy present to nab the mass murderer. At first, the plot elements seem overly familiar: another flawed cop pining for his ex-wife, another psychopath revealing himself in italicized sections, another police chief putting expediency before justice. But the deeper you get into the mystery, Drew's first, the more its rendering of this particular time and place—and the history and social factors that define it, à la Chinatown—draws you in. And the more you learn about Ben and his troubled upbringing, the more courageous the novel seems in exposing truths that most crime fiction doesn't go near. Ben's relationship with a female medical examiner who sees through his defenses is powerfully affecting.
An unusually deft blending of styles, Drew's engrossing novel works equally well as psychological study and cop thriller, literary novel and genre piece.