HELP LINE by Faye Sultan


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Another dogged forensic psychologist tracks another serial killer, and vice versa. The details of Charlotte, North Carolina, psychic healer Tamara Meredith’s murder would be grisly enough on their own—the New Age Baptist cable celebrity was stabbed perhaps a hundred times by a madman who cut off her hands as a souvenir—but they become even more disturbing in the context of rising-star newspaper columnist John Campion’s suggestion that they’re only part of a pattern going back at least to Campion’s time in Orlando, when he covered a murder he’s convinced was the work of the same sicko. Unfortunately, Campion, who’s nothing if not career-minded, doesn’t make his suggestion to anyone but Kate Loveless, his managing editor at the Charlotte Star. Together the two bedmates-to-be hatch a plot to keep Campion’s news flash secret while he goes undercover as a psychiatric patient in an attempt to gather information that will embarrass the authorities’ pitiful attempts at psychological profiling. Campion’s target is Dr. Portia McTeague, the forensic psychologist who’s had plenty of adulatory press since her debut (Over the Line, 1998), but who’s clearly riding for a fall this time. By day, Campion insinuates himself into Portia’s practice, spinning tales about his troubled past; after hours, Portia, a Help Line volunteer, begins to get calls from a someone named Ivan who knows an awful lot about the Charlotte murders (of which there are soon more). Does any of this sound familiar? Well, it doesn’t to Portia, who takes a while to realize that Ivan, who alternates between begging for help and insisting that he’s beyond it, is not just your average caller. Readers starved for novelty, like Portia’s protective, exasperated suitor Alan Simpson, will follow Ivan’s movements more alertly, and perhaps more impatiently. A particular shame in this synthetic sequel is that what looks like the most original variation on the serial-killer formula—the duplicitous reporter bent on discrediting the heroine—turns out to be just more of the same old same old.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-48526-3
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1998


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