Pug/shamus/social worker Duffy Dombrowski must decide if his newest needy client is also a serial killer.
They don’t call Howard Reinhart the “Hacker” because he has a special facility with computers. Years back, when he was a high school senior, Howard sliced three cheerleader classmates to death and then took an ax to the football team’s quarterback. While Duffy acknowledges that nothing could possibly justify a crime of this magnitude, he does empathize. His schoolmates picked on Howard mercilessly, Duffy tells a colleague: “In a way they all had it coming.” Howard served his a sentence for the quadruple homicide. Now that he’s Duffy’s to rehabilitate, his homicidal history suddenly begins repeating itself. At McDonough High, a cheerleader is murdered, and other brutal slayings follow in a macabre, familiar pattern. Is Howard compulsively reenacting his past? Or has a crazed copycat killer been spurred to sickening action by news of his release? And where is Howard, anyway? The police can’t find him, but Duffy gets an unexpected, unwelcome phone call that plunges him into sleuthing mode, puts him at odds with an unsympathetic boss and some severely annoyed cops and brings him within inches of losing his life. The phone call: “Duffy, this is Howard. I didn’t do it.”
Answering the bell for round two (On the Ropes, 2007), Duffy remains refreshingly iconoclastic, though subplot clutter slows his footwork.