The hunt for a serial killer sets off bitter police enmities in this lurid but engrossing thriller.
When the bodies of four African-American women, crucified and bearing burn marks in the shape of a pair of lips are discovered in a hidden chamber in a railroad tunnel under the Hudson River, the FBI, NYPD and Port Authority police all squabble for jurisdiction. Joining their task force is Jersey City’s finest, Shantelle â€œStevie” Sanchez, a stacked, half-Latina, half-black detective from the projects with a well-founded grudge against the white male power structure, whose truculence and foul mouth disguise a keen criminologist’s mind. Stevie struggles to hold her own among her backstabbing, higher-powered colleagues on a case that starts to get very personal. Her task is complicated by the interference of a cast of characters with axes to grind–including the Machiavellian NYPD Commissioner and a TV reporter happy to trade sex for secrets–and by her growing attraction to the older, white, married Port Authority police chief, a Vietnam vet with his own past tunnel traumas. Meanwhile, the narrative peers at the lives of two nearly identical suspects–both tall, muscular white men with mechanical skills and intricate knowledge of the railroad tunnels, both into weightlifting and steroids, both with a sexual fetish for burns, both with a past of quasi- or fully incestuous relationships with prostitute mothers. Wightman takes standard-issue police-thriller conventions and amplifies them to lurid extremes: The ethnic tensions are more strident, the turf battles between rival police agencies more cutthroat, the scheming of shadowy power-brokers more baroque, the media vultures more cynical, the motivating psycho-sexual perversions more explicit.
But the author makes his overdrawn characters both vivid and sympathetic, and tells their story vigorously.