In Laden’s debut novel, a TV reporter, temporarily filling in as lead anchor, may be getting a scoop on a red-hot serial killer story straight from the murderer himself.
Like most reporters, Arland Hunter of WFLA Channel 9 in Miami is waiting for the story that’ll give him his big break. Then a local sanitation worker discovers an unidentified woman’s body behind a dumpster. The chief medical examiner finds that the murderer taped a note to the victim’s hand, numbered “1” and quoting the infamous serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Unsurprisingly, a second murder follows, with a similar, numbered note quoting a different killer. Around the same time, Channel 9’s lead anchor, Carlos Cardona, endures an unrelated tragedy. As Carlos’ substitute, it’s Arland’s chance to shine, and he quickly makes waves by implying on-air, without proof, that authorities are covering up details of the murders, which causes a spike in network ratings. It seems that Arland is angling for a permanent position, but Carlos sees more than a threat to his career: He believes that the reason that Arland is privy to so many facts is because he has a direct line to the killer. Laden fills his novel with convincing melodrama; for instance, he shows that Carlos feels guilt over a one-night stand with co-anchor Chevelle Lourdes Torres, and his wife, Mirla, has plenty of secrets of her own. This adds dimension to the novel but doesn’t soften the impact of scenes from the unnamed killer’s perspective—harrowing and sometimes uncomfortable accounts of murders, as well as extended sequences of physical and psychological torture. The descriptions throughout are often unadorned but comprehensive; this style is most effective when the killer stalks potential victims, learning routines and meticulously inching closer to the inevitable assault. Although the story highlights the media’s faults, Carlos, who favors unbiased news over sensationalism, provides an admirable counterbalance.
A remarkable thriller about a serial killer’s repulsive yearning for fame.