In Zell’s (Urban Limit, 2017, etc.) supernatural thriller, a reporter and a medical examiner team up to investigate a string of bizarre murders.
In 1968, Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Todd Worwick makes news by supporting a much-needed irrigation project. Investigative journalist Deanne Mulhenney is covering the story diligently, but it’s a far cry from her earlier series on child abuse in the church. Then Sara Poole, a California medical examiner, arrives in Arizona seeking Deanne’s help with a potential murder mystery. Sara has connected two apparent drowning deaths in Los Angeles with two others in Phoenix. But the LA victims were found in places where there was no water source nearby. The two women quickly uncover another connection between the four deaths, which ties to an unsolved disappearance from years ago. They further link the case to Worwick, and they fear that the candidate may be the killer’s next victim. A dark sedan keeps following Deanne and Sara—but the murderer may not be its driver, but something otherworldly. Zell’s novel relies not only on its mystery plot, but also on a slowly emerging supernatural presence. The investigation gradually reveals surprises about certain characters. Meanwhile, the paranormal elements, while evident, are often understated—except, perhaps, during the frantic final act. The author aptly engages readers’ senses during murder scenes, as when he describes a “stench of death” and corresponding nausea. However, Zell tempers these details with uproarious moments involving tween Donovan O’Malley; his attempts to impress Cassandra, Worwick’s daughter, tend to fail in comical ways. Deanne and Sara are astute protagonists whose collaboration eventually moves beyond platonic friendship. The ending, which takes a peculiar but not entirely incongruous turn, is unquestionably memorable.
A tense, offbeat story that concentrates more on generating suspense than revealing frights.