L’Etoile’s first novel pits a Sacramento police detective against a killer who’s mutilated corpses for the worst possible reason.
High-ranking gangbanger Daniel Cardozo is the third victim of the Outcast Killer, but he carries one final distinction to the grave: he’s the first one whose arms and legs, among other parts, were removed while he was still alive. What makes someone act like the Outcast Killer, wonders Detective John Penley, and how can the homicide squad possibly catch a criminal who’s so obsessively successful in leaving no trace evidence at any of his crime scenes? These are weighty questions, but Penley is grappling with another even weightier: will doctors find a donor kidney for his son, 9-year-old Tommy, whose renal failure is making him sicker and sicker, in time to save his life? As Penley contemplates paying a wraithlike online correspondent $10,000 for a black-market kidney, his quarry, who sees human bodies as boxes of saleable goodies, toys with him in the cruelest possible way, by sending him a recently harvested kidney as a gift. The sequence surrounding the attempted transplant is brutal and harrowing, but it does give Penley important new leads and eventually helps him connect the recent rash of murders to a forgotten past injustice. Just as Penley seems to be closing in on the killer, who’s routinely been two steps ahead of his every maneuver, Tommy is kidnapped, and Penley forgets everything else in his frantic attempt to rescue his ailing son.
The milieu, suspects, and supporting characters are all forgettable, and the killer scarcely puts in an appearance before he’s unmasked as a bogeyman. The results are best suited to nail-biters in search of something to read in a single breathless sitting, though presumably not in a doctor’s waiting room.