Serial killer bonds with cop in a first novel with a high body count.
The first corpse shows up in the prologue. Val Millimaki, only 12 and a devout altar boy, finds his mother in a barn on their Montana farm; she has hanged herself. Without missing a beat, the novel confronts us with an old man, in open country, shooting to death a man he’s robbed, cutting off his head and hands and directing his accomplice to bury him. The old man, John Gload, has been burying anonymous victims for years. Then we're back to Millimaki, now grown and a sheriff’s deputy, tracking a lost skier in the mountains with his dog; they find her dead. Subsequently they’ll track down three more missing people, all found dead. The grim stats have taken a toll on the introspective deputy and strained his marriage to Glenda, an ICU nurse better able to handle death. Meanwhile, Gload has been arrested (the accomplice snitched), and Millimaki has been given the graveyard shift to guard him and pry loose details of old crimes. The two discover they were both farm kids, plowing the fields. Gload reveals he first killed during a home invasion at 14 and understood this would be his line of work, a remarkable insight for such a young dude. Their late-night talks, Gload hulking behind bars like a zoo animal, dominate the novel. Millimaki can’t sleep; Glenda has left him; and his tracking results deepen his misery. His failure to press Gload on the mysterious disappearance of his live-in girlfriend, Francie, typifies his dullness of spirit. Gload will manage one last kill, monster that he is, but sadly, he’s not an interesting monster.
It’s not the paucity of action but the flawed characterizations that hurt this oppressive work the most.