When four children stumble upon the displayed body of a dead woman, they and their teacher are pulled into the investigation. But when this murder is connected to others, that makes it a potential serial killer, and that means the FBI wants to get involved. Quietly. Of course, it’s only 1985, the edge of modern forensics, so they must pursue their murderer with a combination of science and old-fashioned detective work.
I wish I could remember how this thriller made it into my TBR Pile. It’s a unique entry into the serial killer/forensics sector of the genre due to the time period Hoag chose to set it in. She states in her author’s introduction that she wanted to set her thriller in the 80s due to a personal nostalgia for the time but only after starting her research did she realize what an important time period it was for forensics. I think it’s yet another example of an author following her interests and getting a unique work out of it.
The plot alternates perspectives between the four children, their teacher, the older FBI agent on the case, and the killer (without revealing who the killer is), all in the third person. The changing perspectives help keep the plot complex and moving, as well as give us multiple plausible theories on who the killer is. That said. I was still able to predict the killer, and I honestly felt the killer to be a bit stereotypical.
The serial killings themselves are all of young women who either are currently at or have recently left the local halfway house. The murder/torture methods are sufficiently grotesque without going over the top. Fans of the genre will be satisfied.
The characters are a bit two-dimensional, particularly the older FBI agent, the young cop on the force, and all of the murder suspects. I also, frankly, didn’t appreciate the fact that an expert in the field calls one of the mothers a crazy borderline. She was presented as entirely the flat, evil representation of people with BPD that we problematically see in the media. This is why writing two-dimensional characters can be problematic. We only see the woman being overly dramatic and demanding. We never see her softer or redeeming qualities. I’d have less of a problem with this presentation of this woman with BPD in the book if it was a first person narration or a third person narration that maintained one perspective. Then it could be argued that this is that one character’s perception of the woman. But given that multiple perspectives are offered, presenting so many people in a two-dimensional way is rather inexcusable, and it’s irresponsible to write mental illness in this way. I’m not saying every character with a mental illness needs to be written in a positive light, but they should be written as three-dimensional human beings, not monsters (with, perhaps, the exception of sociopathy).
This is a book, then, with an interesting idea and fairly good plot but shaky characterization. Some people don’t mind that in their thrillers. I admit I speed-read, eager to find out who the killer was. But I also was bothered by the flatness of the characters. If you think this won’t bother you, then you will probably enjoy this book. Those with a mental illness should be warned that the representation of mental illness in the book could be upsetting or triggering.
3 out of 5 stars