Marital difficulties turn murderous in Pronzini’s suspenseful departure from the estimable Nameless Detective series (Schemers, 2009, etc.).
Jay Macklin loves his wife, knows she’s fallen out of love with him and doesn’t blame her. It’s in the hope that his marriage can be saved that he decides on a getaway that will allow them to rediscover and rekindle their love. Just the two of them—alone and undistracted, between Christmas and New Year’s, in a remote vacation house somewhere on the Northern California coastline—reassessing how good they once had it. That turns out to be a frail hope indeed. Not only does therapeutic isolation morph into self-imprisonment, but the Macklins’ only neighbors are anything but neighborly. Brian Lomax routinely beats and terrorizes his wife. The Lomax houseguests, Paula and Gene Decker, drink too much and snipe at each other as if Edward Albee had invented them. Further darkening the atmosphere is the lurking menace of a sociopath run amok, a preservationist transmogrified by his sense of mission into a five-time (at least) serial murderer the media have dubbed the Coastline Killer. It’s just as cold and bleak inside the vacation house as outside—a dire prologue to a sudden, furious storm that ratchets up the violence while bringing emotions to a boil.
Taut, spare and seamlessly plotted. The real accomplishment, however, is the villain of the piece, portrayed sympathetically but without sentimentality.