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by Jess Walter

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-039386-6

A Washington Post journalist (Every Knee Shall Bow, 1995, not reviewed) brings together a tight, well-researched, and satisfying first novel that follows the unexpected path of a serial killer in Spokane—and his heroine’s attempts to keep up.

Smart, single women with pockets of unresolved guilt are big in crime novels these days, and Caroline Mabry is no exception. Daughter of divorced parents, the 36-year-old Mabry is a detective recruited to join the Southbank Strangler task force after an opening drug bust goes bad and the Spokane River’s banks start yielding up bodies. On the team with her is Dupree, a gruff cop with a tender heart, a stubborn streak and an unhappy marriage. Years earlier, Dupree had comforted Caroline after her first shooting; they’d nearly made love, and the suppressed urges add modest suspense to the background of the story. Caroline still doesn’t know if it was a “good shoot” and still doesn’t know if her 22-year-old boyfriend is right for her. So far, this is standard formula for the genre. But Walter collects his details well, and renders them in aptly coarse, rarely overheated prose. Crime scenes, “signatures,” and the ragged world of Spokane prostitution are treated with a sure, experienced hand, as are the interagency conflicts that result when a pair of celebrity profilers are brought in to help. The prime suspect in the case is not, of course, who you think it is, and though the actual killer isn’t revealed until the last 20 pages or so, Walter gives the reader a credible chase throughout. The twist—that the perp, with his grief and meticulous ways, is eerily similar to Mabry—makes the suggestive point that the distinctions between serial killers and the profilers and detectives who chase them share more in common than they’d like to think.

A well-executed tale from a journalist who serves the reader a nice variation on the Good Women, Hard Jobs, Tough Spots motif.