A retired, widowed Drug Enforcement Administration agent looking to start a new life finds himself the prime suspect in a string of murders plaguing a college town.
The arrival of Joe Nicoletti in Missoula, Montana, coincides with the discovery of a missing woman’s body, and that’s just the first in a series of unfortunate (but plausible) coincidences that set this breakneck contemporary procedural in motion. Nicoletti arrives in Missoula as a candidate to inaugurate a new criminology program at the University of Montana. There, he meets a newly divorced professor, Marie-Justine Junot, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife (“Her high cheekbones and dark eyes stirred a memory inside Nicoletti”). He is given a less than warm greeting by the local police chief, who questions the connection between Nicoletti’s arrival in town and the discovery of the dead woman, whose disappearance months before coincided with Nicoletti’s guest lecture stint at a university conference. “Just an interesting coincidence,” the chief cryptically remarks. Meanwhile, the actual killer, dog groomer Charles Durbin, methodically stalks his next victims. Giliotti (Gambrelli and the Prosecutor, 2015) quickly reveals the predator’s identity, building suspense in short, punchy chapters that advance the story through interweaved concurrent scenes that unfold from different perspectives. In one chapter, Marie-Justine’s suspicious elderly neighbor confronts Nicoletti on the street. In the next, Giliotti rewinds as an unwitting Marie-Justine observes the encounter outside her patio door (“She was curious whom Mrs. Jaeger was accosting”). This gives the story an inexorable, page-turning momentum that carries the reader through to the climactic confrontation. Nicoletti is not a flashy character, but he is an impressive detective with the capture of two serial killers to his credit (“which…puts you in an exclusive club having only one member,” he is praised). Durbin is a suitably creepy villain with a penchant for breaking into his victims’ homes while they are out and rummaging through their personal belongings. So it’s probably best that most of the murders, including one unnerving Psycho-like shocker, occur “offstage,” leaving the grisly details to the reader’s imagination.
A swiftly paced procedural that introduces a formidable detective.