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WALLFLOWER by William Bayer


by William Bayer

Pub Date: July 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-679-40047-8
Publisher: Villard

Always an inventive suspense-writer, Bayer outwits himself here with a fractured, Rube Goldberg-like thriller that pits the cop-hero of his first big seller (Switch, 1984) against an unlikely serial killer. As before, middle-aged NYPD homicide detective Frank Janek proves a most winsome protagonist, valiant yet vulnerable. And as in Blind Side and Pattern Crimes, Bayer starts seductively, with a moving prelude that highlights Janek's humanity as the cop takes his first vacation in ten years, in Venice, and falls in love with a German tourist. Janek's idyll is shattered by a phone call informing him that his beloved goddaughter Jess has been slain- -latest victim of a serial killer wanted by the FBI. Trading on old debts, Janek gets assigned to the case as an FBI adjunct (solid detailing of FBI-NYPD rivalry here); his inspired investigation uncovers dread secrets (e.g., that Jess had joined a sex-club) but also a prime suspect: Jess's therapist, man-hating Beverly Archer. However, while breaking into Archer's home for clues, Janek is near-fatally wounded by one of Beverly's patients, a convicted murderess whose room yields strong evidence of her guilt as the serial killer. So far, so brilliant; this is Bayer at his most suspenseful and resonant—but then the narrative veers into overplotted excess, as Bayer reconstructs the genesis and execution of the killings from Archer's point of view (in a shrill, unconvincing voice), and then from that of the murderess, who turns out to have been programmed by Archer to avenge past shames. And when the narrative returns to Janek, his trapping of Archer involves a ploy so far-fetched and a denouement so poetically just as to defy credulity. So: by turns enthralling and just plain silly—a spirited but strained miscalculation by an author who more often than not has been right on the mark.