The new interactive TV show TEN is a standard crime series until the final act of each weekly episode, presented live and allowing the audience to guess whodunit via a website or text. A gimmick, yes, but it’s also the reason the show’s a runaway hit. However, when a few real-life murders and attacks echo the series—e.g., taking place in the same city as the respective episode—Special Agent Lincoln Polk initiates an investigation. Polk links the murders by the killer’s habit of cutting a finger from every victim, though legal wrangling from the show’s producers, who want to keep the upcoming scripts a secret, makes things difficult. That is, until Polk realizes that the murderer may not be randomly choosing his victims—it might be a personal agenda. Hodge’s novel is a steady, meticulously plotted thriller of epic proportions. Perhaps a little too epic, as Polk’s interminable reviewing of the facts covers most of the 650 pages, while snippets of the killer’s perspective offer only a modicum of suspense. Nevertheless, the murders are deliciously diabolical, the causes of death including electrocution and liquid nitrogen, and readers will quickly learn the bizarre but unforgettable meaning behind choosing a different finger per victim. Hodge presents the story in an array of striking ways: a blog, radio shows, a campus security incident log—all of which break up the monotony of a lengthy procedural. There are also numerous references to TV crime series, some directly, others more covert. Polk’s romance with neighbor Sylvia, who watches his dog, and the romance he longs for with FBI-mandated therapist Dr. Tracey Arnold don’t have much substance. But Polk himself is a fascinating protagonist, psychologically tormented by a fatal shooting from less than a year before—a detail that, like the killer’s identity, isn’t revealed until later.
Despite its breadth and minimal focus on a disturbing killer, the never-tedious story is engaging from beginning to end.