Tag Archives: Serial killer

The Leopard – Jo Nesbø

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 Jo Nesbø’s Nordic crime thriller is really really good. The Leopard is dense with predators and prey, the crimes are inventive and horrific, the heroes are terribly flawed. I couldn’t put it down. Well, slight exaggeration. I had to put it down to deliver on some work and to sleep for a few hours, reluctantly. Harry Hole–bad name, I suppose it isn’t as much of a fail in Norwegian–is a brilliant homicide detective whose last serial killer solve cost him everything he cared about in life and left him wrecked and off the force. He’s living in a hostel and a few opium dens in Hong Kong when he is persuaded to return to Norway because his father is dying.

The real reason he is hunted down and escorted home is that another serial killer is drowning young women in their own blood–the cirme scenes and the corpses are inexplicable and nobody can match Harry’s instincts and solve rate.  He wants no part of it, and then an MP is bizarrely murdered in a public pool and he’s hooked. Again. Things do not go well. Harry is a barely recovering drunk with a modest opium jones. His cop shop is in the crosshairs of an ambitious Kripos commissioner, a special branch with big designs on the Crime Squad’s homicide jurisdiction. Harry is given a basement boiler room at the end of a tunnel that connects the jail to the Crime Squad and assigned two officers to help him track the killer, the beautiful and somewhat devious Kaja who lured him from Hong Kong and an old colleague from Harry’s earlier days on the force.

Murders proliferate and get creepier as do the complications, false solutions, promising leads, dead ends and endless political maneuvering for power. Harry is a mess but he’s still a wizard at uncovering evidence and conjecturing motive. Bellman, the head of Kripos, steals his thunder every time. And the crimes keep unspooling, out of control and beyond reason. As soon as a clue is resolved, the plot jags off in another direction and you realize, as does Harry, that nothing has been solved. The evil is layer upon layer of darkness and everyone is shadowed by it. At some point, Harry realizes that the murderer is toying with him. The murderer joins a long list.

Harry Hole, name aside, is a great character-sleuth-hero. Lots of interesting characters crawling all over the book. Unexpected plot developments, sick but believable. Various reasons for the tension to rise. As much as I crave a little light in books to off-set the daily chaos, The Leopard was captivating and completely enjoyable. I doubt I will read the prequel, The Snowman, anytime soon–can only take so much depravity at a time–but it’s probably just as good. Jo Nesbø draws you into the snow and the darkness with all the assurance of a master. I mean it as a compliment when I say he has a great criminal mind. 

The Leopard (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)   Jo Nesbø | Alfred A. Knopf  2011

The Yard – Alex Grecian

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London 1889. Jack the Ripper hasn’t murdered for a while but his identity is still a mystery and the city’s residents have lost faith in the police. Scotland Yard is trapped in old-fashioned police protocols but a new Commissioner just back from India, a new Inspector in Murder just promoted up from Devon and a newly-discovered dismembered body in a trunk at Euston Square Station are about to change that.

Alex Grecian’s Victorian police procedural introduces a terrific pair of sleuths—Inspector Walter Day and Constable Hammersmith are a little uncertain they will manage the overwhelming case loads and win the trust of their fellow officers. But both are unafraid to operate out of integrity and neither has the good sense to go home when a gruesome case remains tantalizingly unsolved. They have plenty of work.

The body is a fellow murder detective and what has been done to him is sickening and inexplicable. The story is larded with gory detail—a major character is the self-appointed medical examiner, a doctor with a jones for the newly emerging discipline of forensic science. He’s a keeper–very colorful and intrepid man with a strong backstory and an even stronger appeal in the middle of a homicide investigation. No dull characters in this novel—chimney sweeps to frenzied, bloodthirsty maniacs are feisty, lurid, eccentric, certifiably mad, unaccountably sane, courtly, deadly and every iteration of unexpected human being. Grecian’s characterization skills are cinematic.

The plots–and there are several that intersect, veer off and unspool into a bizarre tangle in the end–are logical and terrible. London is grubby, smelly, murderous, streaked in blood, gore and horse manure. Threats abound and none are idle. The cops are so inundated with crimes they can never catch up and big clues fall between the cracks as they land on the wrong desk—or in the trash can.

But the new team is good at seeing connections and unafraid to consider patterns of criminal behavior that haven’t been part of a detective’s arsenal before. There’s a great introduction to the questionable idea of finger printing and a willingness to examine psychological profiling as London seems in the grip of multiple serial killers. Kid victims, cop victims, lady victims and sadistic killers are tucked behind every door and most of the doors are closed–but not for long.

The Yard is gritty, sort of disgusting, convincing and gripping. I liked the characters at least as much as the plot. I would pick up a sequel to Grecian’s debut novel—and I suspect, from the way this one leaves off, Inspector Day and his tough, humane sidekick Hammersmith will be back in trouble and in print soon enough.

The Yard   Alex Grecian | Putnam 2012

I’d Know You Anywhere – Laura Lippman

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Laura Lippman examines the effect of a terrible crime on the life of one victim in I’d Know You Anywhere. That phrase is what a serial killer writes from Death Row when he locates Eliza Benedict through a society photo in Washingtonian magazine. Eliza is many years past the summer when she was abducted and forced to accompany sexual predator and murderer Walter Bowman while he trolled for new victims and tried to elude capture. She is married to a successful financial analyst with two kids and they have recently returned from living in London.

Eliza is a full time mother and happy with her lot when the letter comes out of the blue one day. The careful handwriting looks feminine but there is no mistaking the tone of the letter. Bowman is as manipulative as ever, gracious and reasoned in his request. He wants to call her. And she is afraid to ignore him—she knows he retaliates horribly when his overtures are rebuffed.

Things get stranger and stranger as Eliza is forced to relive the 15-year-old Elizabeth Lerner’s ordeal, an episode she has put behind her. Her supportive husband points out that Bowman is securely incarcerated and scheduled, after years of exhaustive appeals, for execution. Her children absorb her attention as they each struggle with an adjustment to the experience of living in a new culture. An oddly menacing anti-death penalty advocate begins stalking Eliza and the mother of one murdered girl tracks her down. She gradually allows Bowman more access to her life.

Lippman shifts between Eliza’s present life and her past self, Bowman’s mind and that of Holly Tackett’s mother—the victim for whom Bowman finally received the death penalty. For a while I was bothered by the idea that Eliza’s children would end up physically at risk somehow, as a plot device. But the terrors in this novel are subtler and more chilling. I’d Know You Anywhere is a psychological suspense that traces the twisted path of a killer, the vigilant attempts Eliza has made to keep her demons at bay, and what it takes to reach closure when your world has been ripped open and never wholly mended.

There are surprises in this story about an old, solved crime. And there is a necessary unraveling that provokes Eliza to leave the intentional cocoon of her safe life and risk the truth—about the past and about the present. What she finds frees her for the real challenges present in her reclaimed life and family and releases her, finally, from the pernicious influence of a psychopath she would know anywhere.

I’d Know You Anywhere: A Novel   Laura Lippman | William Morrow   2010

Down the Darkest Road – Tami Hoag

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Down the Darkest Road, a mystery/thriller by Tami Hoag, takes full advantage of the stories behind grim headlines to track a serial killer and the effect of a heinous crime on a single family. Lauren Lawton’s 16-year-old daughter goes missing and is never found. The family life turns from privileged to nightmare. Her husband kills himself and 12-year-old Leah forfeits her childhood and any sense of normalcy or nurture. And the irony is that Lauren knows who took her child but nothing can be proven.

A mother’s obsession with finding out what happened to her daughter in idyllic Santa Barbara is intensified when the predator begins to stalk her and then sues the local cops for failing to protect him from her response. In desperation, or something else, Lauren moves to a smaller town up the coast, Oak Knoll, where no one knows her or Leah and they can start over. But she doesn’t start over. The move is more complicated than it first appears.

As local detective Tony Mendez gets involved in the Lawton case, the slick killer resurfaces and the stalking resumes. Danni Tanner, Santa Barbara’s lone female detective, is handed the cold case and Tony consults her for background. No evidence indicts the supposed kidnapper but ominous sightings and deliberate clues appear and Leah and Lauren are clearly in the crosshairs. The Lawtons begin to unravel psychologically while a few cops race to find some legal way to protect them and solve the crime.

Lauren Lawton has no faith in law enforcement after four years of an unending ordeal so she takes matters into her own hands. The suspect infiltrates substrata of Oak Knoll where young women and high school girls congregate and continues a lifelong course of stalking, tracking, meticulous data gathering on his quarry and perverted break-ins. He seems to be lining up a long list of future victims and Leah, approaching the same age her sister was when she disappeared, is among them.

Lots of characters in Hoag’s novel have backstories replete with murder and sexual assault. That’s almost a distraction because the incidence of such crimes in California would appear to be exponentially higher than the national average if you go by this narrative. But the requisite threats, tension and extreme violence are all present in appropriate measure at key points in the story. It’s well-written and doesn’t disappoint for the genre. Pretty easy to see why Tami Hoag is a massively successful author—she has this style down and her latest book was a compelling, if not very redemptive, read. No happy endings in Down the Darkest Road but the consolation is that things wrap up better than they might have in the real world, some threats are removed and the damaged survivors are free to rebuild and reinvent their lives.

Down the Darkest Road   Tami Hoag | Dutton  2012