In this debut thriller, detectives learn that a brutal slaying in their small Wisconsin town is actually the work of a methodical serial killer.
Eight months shy of a forced retirement, Michael “Copper” Donovan finally gets his wish: a genuine murder case in Eau Claire, Wis. He and his partner, Detective Brian Scully, turn up a few dead ends before hearing of a John Doe in Oklahoma killed in a different manner but whose death bears similarities to their victim, namely an alphanumeric sequence branded into the skin. It isn’t long before more bodies are discovered, and the detectives realize that the victims haven’t been chosen at random. Turk clearly knows the genre and caters to readers’ expectations: a detective trying to solve his last case, chasing a killer around the country and, for the most part, keeping the feds at bay. But what starts off as a standard mystery turns into a riveting study of a murderer; the killer’s identity is revealed before the story’s even to the halfway point, and scenes from the perspective of the murderer, who’s careful and deliberately slow in tracking and torturing victims, are quite unsettling. The author establishes his scenes and characters with the speed and precision of a surgeon—a shanty atop a frozen lake and a staff sergeant’s sweaty uniform, a “khaki Rorschach test.” And there are tense set pieces throughout the novel, including one in which Donovan and Scully are isolated in the woods with a probable suspect, a hunter who is, not surprisingly, well-armed. Female characters leave a little to be desired, though: Donovan’s wife, Tess, is little more than a dutiful housewife; the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which antagonistically stalls the investigation, is most often represented by a woman; and Nolan, a cop helping with the case, is known for working long hours, likely to avoid going home to seven children and a nagging wife. But with motives that can’t be easily defined as fiendish, the killer will be ingrained in readers’ minds. His need to kill is a painful experience, a “tightening” at the base of the skull.
A solid amount of suspense at a steady pace—ripe for a Hollywood screenplay.