A detective, emotionally damaged after his own kidnapping, pursues a serial killer of young girls in Portland, Ore.
Two years ago, homicide detective Archie Sheridan was kidnapped while tracking beautiful but treacherously demented serial killer Gretchen Lowell. After torturing Archie for days, Gretchen eventually saved his physical life by calling 911 and turning herself in, but Archie’s existence has been fundamentally ruined. Separated from his wife, he is addicted to various prescription painkillers and remains on disability from his work as a homicide detective. Every Sunday Archie visits Gretchen in prison, ostensibly because he is the only one to whom she’ll disclose the locations of her 200 (!) murder victims. In fact, he is addicted to her control over him. Despite Archie’s fragile emotional state, when someone starts murdering 14-year-old girls, the police department asks him to take charge of the case. As the cop who survived a kidnapping, Archie has become a celebrity, and the local paper arranges for a young reporter, Susan Ward, to profile him as he works the new case. Susan does not realize that Archie is manipulating her. He hopes her revealing articles about him spurs Gretchen, who has recently gone silent, to offer up the whereabouts of more bodies. Susan finds easy access to interviews with Archie’s ex-wife Debbie, who turns out to be a sophisticated artist, his doctor, who describes Archie’s torture as unimaginably cruel, and even Gretchen, who is frighteningly on target about Susan’s own ghosts. Susan’s father died when she was 14. As a freshman at Cleveland High, where one of the recent victims attended school, she may or may not have had an inappropriate sexual relationship with her drama teacher. Archie realizes almost too late that Gretchen has actually been setting her own trap, and Susan is the intended victim.
Despite obvious red herrings, Cain (Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, 2005) creates a cleverly contorted thriller plot and characters with memorable personalities.