Finally free, at least physically, of his former lover and crazed torturer, Gretchen Lowell, who's behind bars, Portland Detective Archie Sheridan vies with a slightly more mundane serial killer in Cain's latest installment in the series (Heartsick, 2007, etc.).
Where do you go as a mystery writer after your beautiful, smart, cruelly amusing main attraction has pulled out all psychotic stops in making your star detective's life an unrelieved hell? In this volume, Cain gives Gretchen a breather and replaces her with a largely unseen male menace. Accompanied by a nine-year-old boy who was stolen from his parents 18 months ago, this serial killer carries around small, blue-ringed octopuses in baggies, subjects his victims to their poisonous bites and tosses the corpses in the river. The killings begin after the discovery of a skeleton points back to the Vanport flood of 1948, which wiped out an entire public-housing project and claimed the lives of many residents who were tardily warned by authorities of the impending disaster. Sixty-two years later, with the overflowing Willamette River about to wreak havoc on Portland, two people close to the still-shaky Sheridan are touched by the octopus killer's evil: Henry Sobol, a fellow cop, and Susan Ward, a hungry crime columnist with wild hair. Compared to the Gretchen Lowell books, there's nothing else particularly wild about this novel. But the story is deftly handled, the suspense is plentiful and Cain's evocation of the gloomy atmosphere and Portland setting is superb. Gretchen fans will be pleased when she shows up at the end and with a glance tells us we haven't seen the last of her, but this novel does an excellent job of killing time until then.
A strong and satisfying, if less extreme, outing from the new queen of serial-killer fiction.