In DeBernardo’s first thriller, a psychologist works with the police to thwart a serial killer who may be stalking her.
It’s been two years since the brutal murder of Dr. Sara Chioti’s partner, the star country singer Anna Belle. The doctor is a psychological consultant for the FBI, typically paired with Special Agent Scott Steele. Her latest case, however, can’t distract her from recurring nightmares and her persistent, vibrant memories of Anna. Women are being tortured, killed and left on grotesque display, but it’s the notes the killer leaves behind that are most disturbing—especially as they come to resemble the messages being left for Sara by an unknown antagonist. DeBernardo’s novel highlights the procedural aspect of law enforcement; there are many sequences involving discussions of the ongoing investigation. These are the book’s sturdiest points, as well as the characterization of Sara and Steele; they’re intelligent, meticulous and endlessly fascinating. There’s also an imposing expression of Sara’s love for Anna. A pager code that only Anna knew and a familiar book lead the doctor to believe that perhaps her love is haunting her, or even still alive; incessant reminiscences of Anna are both endearing and heartbreaking. The serial killer, meanwhile, writes letters (appearing as chapters) addressed to “Lovely,” vividly describing his childhood with an abusive mother and his perverse reflections. He has plenty to offer to maintain tension: an M.O. that’s altered as frequently as his victims and a trail of disfigured Barbie dolls left at the cops’ front doors. Sara’s friend Kris is intended as a lighthearted reprieve from the more apprehensive moments, but she sometimes hits a sour note; her hectic behavior—such as concerning herself more with seducing the doctor’s female bodyguard than Sara’s state of mind—occasionally makes her seem more dissonant than funny. The novel is rounded out with lurid descriptions—sidestepping brain matter and pools of blood at the morgue—and a copious amount of people in peril, clever surprises and red herrings.
A cut above other, more by-the-numbers thrillers.