A mystery that toggles between centuries and pits present-day antiquarians against a 19th-century serial killer—with a ghost thrown in for good measure.
Alberts’ (A Twist of Fate, 2015, etc.) story begins with Roy Archibald, a retired police detective, and his charming friends, who all work at an antique store. Roy deals in antique photographs, and as such, has a rare gift: when he holds certain photos in his hands, he goes into a sort of trance and can relive the stories behind the images. In this way, he uncovers the fact that Otis Johnson (1856-1918), a roving professional photographer, was also a serial killer. Soon, the search is on to uncover all of Johnson’s heinous crimes, and at least provide some closure to the cases and relief to the victims’ descendants. Then, just as readers settle into this rather benign historical mystery, a plot twist gives them a real kick in the gut; suffice it to say that the flourishing of evil didn’t end with Johnson. The story shifts nicely between the present and Johnson’s era as he dispatches one victim after another. One subplot shows how the oldsters become closer as they work on the case; there’s even, eventually, a wedding. There’s also a snarky teenager, Holly Wilson, who has a psychic gift as well—and a mysterious habit of showing up in Roy’s stall and then disappearing. Alberts does a good job of developing his characters, and even Johnson is more fascinating than appalling. The writing, however, is somewhat uneven; for example, the author has a habit of overreaching with his diction (such as using the phrase “ocular intake” for “looking around”), which, if it’s a conscious choice, doesn’t work as planned. Characters also seldom “say” things; rather, they “posit,” “scold,” “observe,” or whatnot, which becomes a game, but not a pleasure.
This novel has a devilishly clever gimmick and a plot to go with it; worth a read, despite its flaws.