Detective Tracy Crosswhite goes after the killer who’s hogtying Seattle’s exotic dancers and watching them strangle themselves to death.
Still raw from the retrial of the leading suspect in her long-dead sister Sarah’s murder back in Cedar Grove (My Sister’s Grave, 2014), Tracy has rejoined the Violent Crime Squad just in time to catch the case of Angela Schreiber, a dancer at the Pink Palace who was strangled in a hotel room she’d rented by the hour. The scene bears an uncomfortable similarity to the death scene of Nicole Hansen, a performer at Dancing Bare, whose case Tracy’s boss, Capt. Johnny Nolasco, had taken from her and palmed off on Cold Cases after only a month. Tracy, who’s just received a noose from an anonymous donor, soon realizes that both cases also recall the murder of Beth Stinson, a bookkeeper who was strangled with a noose nine years ago in her North Seattle home. Clearly the Violent Crime Squad is up against a serial killer. None of them wants to use that phrase to the press because of the hysteria it would incite—except for Nolasco, who repeatedly leaks inside information to TV reporter Maria Vanpelt, dubs the perp the Cowboy Killer, and does everything he can to whip up public frenzy and undermine Tracy. Dugoni pulls out all the stops. He parades a lineup of suspects that includes a rancher’s son, a fly-tying expert, and a man who likes to wear cowboy boots. He has Tracy go off on an unauthorized investigation with her lover, lawyer Dan O’Leary. He shows the Cowboy Killer striking again and again. He puts Tracy squarely in the danger zone so that the only question is whether she’ll be drummed off the force before she’s strangled herself.
The results are professional, even exhaustive, but uninspired, with the unmasking of the nondescript culprit a particular letdown. It all reads like an expansive anthology of genre scenes you’ve encountered a hundred times before.