In Cooke’s debut thriller, copycat murders that seem to be emulating the work of a serial killer culminate in lethal riots in the Texas Hill Country, leading the few survivors no choice but to fend for themselves.
The man believed to be the Hill Country Killer is dead. Yet Texans are now tormented by a new serial killer, this one dubbed by the media as The Girl Eater (it’s literal). Subsequent murders are apparently copycats of The Girl Eater’s first attack, but things really turn bizarre with the Circle, an event in which various participants ritually sacrifice a girl. A mob of crazed people (mostly men) then take to the streets, violently killing those who refuse to join them. The group specifically targets Hope, a rescued would-be victim of the Hill Country Killer and young amnesiac who can only remember her name. Cal Ward, recently released from a mental health clinic, is determined to keep Hope safe, even if he doesn’t know why the rioters are after her. Though the author’s novel has shades of a murder mystery (detectives Dwight Hesting and Valerie Marshall do start an investigation), it owes more to post-apocalyptic fiction. The bulk of the story follows Cal, Hope and Jenny, who worked at the hospital where Hope was a resident, evading the deranged mob through a city littered with bodies and devoid of electricity or communication. Many of the survivors, including the detectives and pothead Charles Spiritwalker, are invested more in fleeing the killers than finding answers to explain the goings-on. In fact, readers hoping for monumental revelations may be disappointed: Dwight and Valerie (on horseback) make a concerted effort to track down thuggish Tomas, who may be able to shed light on the motive behind the riots, but the ending offers very little resolution and not much more than a setup for a second book. However, what clarification there is—which recalls an earlier hint during The Girl Eater’s initial appearance—will definitely have an impact. The book is hampered quite a bit by structural issues. Paragraphs, in particular, are broken only by dialogue and scene transitions, so some action details, bunched together in excessively long segments, can feel rushed.
Reads like an introduction to something bigger; fans partial to epic apocalyptic thrillers should keep an eye out.