A quick-witted FBI agent squares off against a depraved serial killer in this debut thriller.
Special agent Benjamin Kroh’s job is to track down murderers, and he’s extremely good at it. As a member of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, Kroh gets an assignment that takes him back to his hometown in Indiana, where the so-called Fingertip Killer has struck again. At first, the homicide looks like the work of a disgruntled ex-autoworker, but the victim’s missing fingertips link the murder to similar cases in other states. Evidence suggests a comedian on the national touring circuit could be behind the crimes, but Kroh’s instincts tell him to look twice at a too-convenient solution. The truth, it turns out, is more disturbing than he could have ever imagined. As Kroh hunts for the supposed perp, the real killer plots his next move, soon setting his sights on the agent, who seems dangerously close to unmasking him. Oneal’s novel is a solid thriller that should appeal to fans of TV series like Criminal Minds. The comedy-club circuit setting is a creative twist, though as a villain, Fingertip is no Hannibal Lecter. His over-the-top pronouncements and absurd arrogance come off as more goofy than scary. “Why can’t I just kill and be recognized for my art?” he whines at one point. Detailed descriptions of the murders may be a bit much for the squeamish, while the off-color joking the FBI agents engage in is strictly high school locker-room material. As the hero, Kroh has swagger and sex appeal, and his affair with Crystal Markum, a forensic investigator on the case, provides an excuse for several steamy bedroom scenes. But this agent’s abrasive style and tendency to consider all witnesses (and some of his co-workers) hostile make him less sympathetic. Furthermore, the book’s shallow treatment of its female characters remains off-putting; they’re almost universally “pretty” or “beautiful” and not much else. Still, the graphic story’s a true page-turner, and the final confrontation between Kroh and Fingertip provides a satisfying denouement.
A clever, fast-paced, and gruesome mystery.