A sheriff and his ex-detective pal chase a vindictive serial killer menacing North Carolina’s Outer Banks in this debut thriller.
Dare County Sheriff Martin Tate doesn’t have much experience with homicide. When cops find the body of nurse Lisa Utley in her ransacked home, Tate seeks help from his friend and former Ohio detective, Paul Treadwell. Paul, now running the Brown Pelican, a Duck, North Carolina, restaurant, after he and his wife, Megan, won the lottery, can offer Tate insights, having investigated more murder cases. The latest crime scene looks like a robbery gone wrong, but the woman’s photo ID lying atop an open phone book—displaying an ad for the hospital where she worked—seems suspicious. There’s also a burned CD in the stereo with only a single song. About a month later, the Treadwells’ morning beach walk is cut short by the discovery of insurance salesman Ted Blankenship’s apparently drowned body. A suicide or accident, perhaps, but back at his house are signs of a murderer’s M.O.: a phone book with Ted’s Yellow Pages ad, a newspaper article featuring the salesman, and a single-song CD. Readers know, courtesy of the killer’s perspective, that someone, motivated by payback, is meticulously stalking his prey. As the psychopath continues his killing spree, Paul and the sheriff remain dangerously unaware that the murderer’s list of impending victims includes Megan. This novel is first and foremost a mystery, not revealing the killer’s reason for vengeance or Megan’s connection to it until late in the story. Tate’s a bit of a cliché as the coffee-drinking, donut-munching sheriff, but Paul is a solid protagonist—with the smarts of an investigator and the charm of an everyday man who jokes with Megan and Pelican chef Gunny Books. The point of viewof the murderer, too, is effective; he’s terrifyingly scrupulous, and his self-appointed pseudonym, Mr. Swaylon, even gives him a personality. The good guys too easily unveil Swaylon’s true identity, but Beckett does address the killer’s ego. Swaylon’s prone to occasional bouts of stupidity, such as taunting Tate with a phone call, but, as in the case of so many serial killers, who’ll understand his vengeful rationale if he’s never caught?
Paul’s a memorable lead, but it’s the largely unknown killer who makes the grandest impression.