In this installment of Croft’s (Palimpsest, 2013, etc.) thriller series, a pathologist helps the police investigate killings of homeless people in San Francisco.
Lt. Daisuke “Dan” Fujioka asks for Dr. Andrew MacCrimmon’s assistance on a fresh murder case: Someone has shot and killed Abel “Chains” Johnson, a man who was living on the streets. Fujioka believes that the murder has a connection to an earlier homicide in which Chains discovered the corpse. In that case, pathologist MacCrimmon identified the body and unearthed information that ultimately led to the killer’s capture. Around the same time as Fujioka’s present-day case, MacCrimmon hears of another murder—a fatal stabbing, and the victim’s mother believes that the doctor himself is the killer. She also claims that MacCrimmon had previously assaulted her son. The latter part is true, but only because the doctor had learned that the man had drugged and raped someone close to him. But he certainly didn’t kill him—and he helps Detective Gino Antonelli find the person who’s truly responsible. Meanwhile, the murders of homeless people continue, and MacCrimmon is convinced the dead man in Antonelli’s case had been a serial rapist. When a homeless person whom MacCrimmon befriended turns up dead, the doctor puts himself in danger in order to unmask the murderer. Further complicating the pathologist’s life is his estranged spouse, Karen. She’s started dating a lawyer, but she’s upset that her husband may be involved with someone, as well. Their own relationship, however volatile, refuses to fizzle out.
Croft’s novel, the seventh entry in his series, has strong ties to the preceding six books. Although the author deftly combines the new and recurring storylines, readers who haven’t read the other books may want to peruse them first, if only to avoid spoilers. This time around, Croft painstakingly establishes concurrent mysteries that involve at least two killers and a “Mystery Woman” who cryptically informs the doctor that she plans to make him suffer for an unknown offense. Along the way, the author also provides engrossing backstories for the sympathetic homeless victims. For example, one man is a schizophrenic who hasn’t recovered from losing his twin brother, and another person is afraid that her HIV-positive status will scare away prospective partners. Meanwhile, the events of MacCrimmon’s labyrinthine love life can feel akin to a soap opera at times, albeit an entertaining one. He and Karen, in particular, oscillate between ending their marriage and reigniting their love, which makes their frequent scenes together feel rather repetitive. But their mutual fickleness is also an indication that the love that they share for each other is strong; they both have other romantic partners, for instance, but in neither case has anything sexual occurred. The doctor’s turbulent relationships often spark memorable dialogue, as well. For example, MacCrimmon tries to discourage one woman from a potential romance with a reminder: “Besides, you hate me.” And she coolly responds, “Oh, yes, I’d forgotten.”
A rock-solid mystery and a twisty melodrama that should please new and returning readers alike.