A homicide detective, believing he’s spotted a serial killer’s M.O., teams up with a private eye pal to put a stop to the murders in this thriller.
The latest case for Lt. Dennis Cane of Georgia’s Peach Grove Police Department is a homicide—or an attempted one. The Jane Doe survives someone setting her on fire, and lies in critical care at a hospital’s burn unit. Dennis isn’t surprised by the assault. He’s been following a torch killer’s pattern: two slayings a year (June 16 and 24), starting with a murder three years ago in 2005. The deaths were in different jurisdictions, so Dennis can’t work an official investigation, despite tying some murders together with black threads and DNA at the scenes. He does find help, however: high school chum and private investigator Merlot Candy, specializing in tracking down missing people, manages to identify the Jane Doe. Hired by her family to find her assailant, Merlot collaborates with Dennis. The two friends uncover evidence further linking a few of the murders, while FBI profiler Sterling Templeton may have a way to locate the anonymous caller who found the burn victim. They have mere days before the presumed next homicide on the 24th—unless the killer decides to change the discernible method. The novel is an unhurried but engrossing mystery. Dennis and Merlot, for example, don’t really start investigating until well past the halfway point, but a multitude of characters, including burn unit staff (the killer may try to finish the attempted murder), give the story depth. Allis (A False Start, 2014) likewise adds historical details for the 2008 setting, from presidential candidate Barack Obama to the upcoming Celtics/Lakers NBA championship battle. Case specifics are sometimes contradictory; Templeton notes the killer has no “particular type of woman,” despite all the victims being young blond females who, according to Merlot’s assistant Glenn Bausch, share “a slight resemblance.” The author’s no-frills writing style gives the plot momentum but occasionally calls unnecessary attention to metaphors—with more than one reference to black-threads evidence and a case “hanging by threads.” The ending, however, is remarkable, offering resolution and a bona fide shock or two.
A somewhat muddled homicide investigation, but bold characters and an exemplary coda make the story worthwhile.