A small-town sheriff and a detective try to stop an elusive killer targeting young girls in Barnes’ debut.
A missing teenager is found dead in North Carolina and Sheriff Claire Stiles is called in to investigate. The death is connected to a murder in New York, so Claire soon welcomes recently widowed Det. Frank Reilly to the case. The killer, Jackson, introduced early in the novel, concentrates his murderous animosity toward one girl—she’s already dead, but Jackson continues to see her reflection in other young women. A meticulous investigation ensues. It’s deliberately slow but never tedious, even when highlighting the mundane aspects of the police work—like the sheriff assigning tasks—and the many unanswered questions and dead ends. The systematic buildup of suspense after the endless hours of investigation doesn’t have the punch it could because the killer’s identity has already been revealed to readers. Claire’s despondency and willingness to sidestep the rules place her in closer proximity to a film noir gumshoe than her detective counterpart, Frank. A subplot involving a potential love connection between the two is made more complex because she has a boyfriend. The novel’s greatest strength is its unrestricted look at Jackson’s history. He had a loveless mother who nurtured his hatred and now represents an evil living beyond the grave. Despite several scenes of victims’ parents hearing the dreaded news, Barnes avoids melodrama and continuously reminds readers of the murderer’s presence. For every scene of a mother crying for her child, there’s a less intense but still chilling sequence such as Claire witnessing an exhaustive autopsy. The book nearly falters after hitting the resolution and lugging its way to an ending, but the appropriately unsettling coda will linger with readers.
A disturbing portrait of a killer, and the scrupulous work and determination required to find him.