A grisly serial killer—they don’t call him the Husker for nothing—stalks the 1893 Chicago’s World’s Fair.
That filleting knife of his would be horrible enough if little boys weren’t his target of choice. When eight-year-old Billy Richmond, son of a prominent architect, vanishes, the press screams bloody murder. Enter the famed Pinkertons as well as an elite force of FBI forerunners to augment the men in blue. Enter too Dr. Elizabeth Handley: the first woman to graduate from Harvard in psychology, a recognized expert in pathology, and just a bit of a weirdo herself. The cigar-smoking psychologist, whose eccentricities pique but don’t quite sustain interest, lets the cops and the Pinkertons do the conventional clue-seeking while she sets about assembling her Husker bio-file, from how he must look to what makes him a hater. Meantime, the death toll mounts. Millionaire Thomas Palmer, owner of the Palmer House, pumps money into the sleuthing effort, but the vicious Husker remains elusive. At last Dr. Handley gets an unexpected tip that leads to a scary underground chase in and out of Chicago’s sewer system, with Handley pursuing the Husker and the cops hot-footing it after Handley. At length someone gets caught. It might even be the Husker.
First-novel atmospherics and setting are done to a turn. It’s the cast that’s undercooked.