Uneven thriller about a New York City police detective who tracks a copycat serial killer.
Ellroy (A Quiet Belief in Angels, 2009) begins with the appealing John Costello, nearly 17 and growing up in Jersey City. When John spots Nadia, a beautiful young woman, they begin a passionate relationship. One night, as they sit outdoors, a man approaches from behind and smashes Nadia’s head with a hammer. Nadia dies, John narrowly escapes and the killer eventually commits suicide at a psychiatric facility. Ellroy now jumps forward 11 years and, in what may be a strategic mistake, shifts to the point of view of police detective Ray Irving. The author provides ample details to animate Irving and his Manhattan, but neither the man nor the place equal the vibrance of Costello and his Jersey City. At work, Irving confronts a killing similar to Nadia’s—in Bryant Park, the body of a teenage girl turns up, her head crushed. Then the bodies of two teenage girls, shot in the head, are dumped along FDR Drive. Later, the body of a young man, his face painted like a clown, is found in a drain. A story in the City Herald traces the killings to those of serial killers of the past. Because all these killers were executed or are currently imprisoned, the story suggests a copycat killer is at large. How did reporter Karen Langley develop this theory? With aid from research assistant John Costello, who now obsessively compiles information about serial killers. Langley points out to Irving that the present-day killings occur on the anniversaries of the earlier murders. Aided by Langley and Costello, Irving digs through a massive haystack of serial-murder cases to find a needle—another case the killer will recreate. After several dead-ends, the three face off with the Anniversary Man in a tense scene in Madison Park.
Ellory’s prose is rather colorless, the plot lacks pace and momentum and Irving, at the center of it, is lackluster.