The creator of casino expert Tony Valentine (Mr. Lucky, 2005, etc.) produces a suspense crossover with plenty of good news and bad for both private eye Jack Carpenter and his readers.
Simon Skell used the Rolling Stones’s “Midnight Rambler” as the musical accompaniment to the gruesome murders of all seven of his victims before runaway teen Melinda Peters’s testimony about his abduction and abuse of her, set to the strains of “Midnight Rambler,” sent him to prison. Now the body of another Rambler victim, prostitute Carmella Lopez, has turned up, horribly, in the backyard of Carmella’s sister Julie. A thorough police search earlier provides the strongest possible proof that whoever buried it there wasn’t Samuel Skell. So public opinion, expertly manipulated by Skell’s lawyer Leonard Snook and Skell’s prison bride Lorna Sue Mutter, is baying for his release—a development likely to have dire consequences for both Melinda and Jack Carpenter, the Miami missing-persons specialist whose pursuit of the Rambler was so hard-nosed that it got him tossed off the force. Gone private, Jack is every inch the detective he used to be, and the episodes in which he tracks down his latest targets—a newborn snatched from a hospital, a child taken from Disney World—are thrilling. But Swain’s two-steps-forward-one-step-back plotting, redolent as it may be of real-life missing-persons cases, makes for wobbly suspense. And although Jack is given believable relationships with his estranged wife and his basketball-playing daughter, his methodical approach to the conspirators he discovers behind the elaborate serial-molestation plot can make you wince even when you’re doing your best to root for him. Instead of using his information to fence them in, he repeatedly loses his cool and goes up against them directly, the antagonists alternately beating and terrorizing each other.
Even so, Jack’s likely to be a hit with readers who fantasize about noble roughnecks, and a sequel, maybe even a series, seems assured.