In this debut thriller, a man’s decadelong registration as a sex offender sparks police interest following a 7-year-old girl’s murder in New Orleans.
Sean Andrew Jordan was only 18 when a dubious encounter with a younger girl led to a conviction of criminal sexual abuse. He’s a registered sex offender but has a family—a wife, Laurie, and 4-year-old daughter, Ren—as well as employment as an adjunct professor. When Lt. Detective Owen Dupree finds the body of little Mattie Daniels, he checks on sex offenders in the area. Dupree, however, quickly zeroes in on Sean, whose alibi—at home with Laurie—doesn’t hold up. Sean had kept mum about being at a bar with pal Douglas Wile, who served time for indecent exposure but plans to lie low and ignore the court order to register as a sex offender. Sean doesn’t have that option, especially after a radio station, to boost ratings, starts outing sex offenders. He loses his job and incurs the wrath of the occasional citizen. Dupree, meanwhile, connects recent murders with explosions that are occurring around the same time. He may have his eye on Sean, but so does a serial killer, and when a young girl goes missing, it’s not long before Sean vanishes, too. Hallenstein certainly doesn’t pull any punches with his dark, often bleak tale. The murderer’s deeds, for one, are brutal even in their aftermath, while insight into the initially unknown killer exposes a violent mentality. But the protagonist isn’t any less gloomy. Sean, for example, is convinced he killed his parents, who died in an explosion when he was 11—details that the story doesn’t clarify until near the end. Notwithstanding, he’s wholly sympathetic, his long-ago crime paling in comparison to the current predators’. Likewise, the system’s labeling and corresponding treatment of Sean torture him so much he begins to question himself: is he sexually attracted to underage girls? While the murderer’s reveal is not surprising, the later scenes brim with suspense, including men taking shots at Sean in the French Quarter, crowded with partiers ready for the upcoming Mardi Gras.
Stark and harrowing, with a troubled protagonist’s inner turmoil magnified by a tangible evil.