A fourth match—a fifth, if you count The Night Season (2011), in which she’s limited to a cameo—between Gretchen Lowell, the Beauty Killer, and Archie Sheridan, the Portland cop who alternates between locking her up and having sex with her.
Gretchen claims over 200 murder victims, but how could she have killed Jake Kelly, the philanthropist who volunteered at the Life Works Center for Young Women? Yet the corpse, bashed, skinned, hanged from a tree on Mount Tabor and decorated with a lily, certainly seems like more of her handiwork. So does the body of PR flak Gabby Meester, taken from her car and set afire at the foot of a Portland landmark with another lily. Of course, it’s no trouble to prove an alibi when you’re drugged to the gills and incarcerated in the Oregon State Mental Hospital. Although he swears that he’s not going to see his murderous ex-lover again, Archie’s lured back into contact with her when Gretchen’s interview with Susan Ward, the newspaper reporter whose life Archie saved, concludes its grueling description of Gretchen’s very first murder, the slaughter 16 years ago of James Beaton, with an urgent plea Susan passes on to Archie: “Children are going to die....You have to find the flash drive.” Could one of those children be Pearl Clinton, who’d been staying at the Life Works Center before she disappeared? How much of what Gretchen says can be trusted? And just how many serial killers are lurking in the hills of Oregon?
Cain’s abiding determination to outdo the suspense, plot twists and gore of each previous outing is both perverse and awe-inspiring.