Ending the rampage of two sadistic serial killers may depend on a substance-abusing homicide detective facing an old lover and an unknown nemesis in this raw and utterly readable thriller.
Behind the nom de plume is Glen Duncan (By Blood We Live, 2014, etc.), last seen spewing bloody ink in the wrap-up to his toothsome werewolves-and-vampires trilogy. In a different vein here, he cooks up mayhem among mortals, creating a duo from Of Mice and Men by way of Thomas Harris without the fava beans. Inspired by some horrific child abuse, Xander and Paulie are on a mission to rape, torture, and murder a certain number of women, aided by a serrated fishing knife, an iPad, and a combined IQ maybe in the high double-digits. Detective Valerie Hart leads a San Francisco team confronted with at least seven victims and zero clues. Black sets parallel narratives in motion when the latest murders send a teenage girl into hiding and a new potential victim hands the Hart team its first break—once underway, the police work is crisp and convincing. Meanwhile, the former lover complicates Valerie’s chilly, vodka-fueled efficiency while an FBI operative seems to lie behind several incidents undermining her. Compared with the explicit gore of the trilogy, there’s some writerly restraint here amid much nastiness. But nasty it is, and it’s made more so by the author’s deep dives into the mind of a victim, especially when her terror is stoked by the iPad’s gruesome video records. An especially fine piece of staging has the injured teen and the writer crippled by sciatica with whom she has taken refuge awaiting unlikely rescue on a dead-end road.
Aficionados may fault Black for allowing the police at least one major oversight, but most readers will likely be too engrossed or happily grossed out to do anything but whip through the pages.