Keeping a detective series going for several books requires a lot of very intense cases to come the detective’s way. The lives of real-world PIs are rarely that interesting. I’m usually happy enough to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the thrill, but I tend to balk when it comes to psycho serial killers. It’s like a group of teens in a horror film splitting up when the lights go out. There’s a sadistic lunatic murderer out there and you plan to outwit him…yourself? Without the help of hundreds of police officers? Also, in order to make the case matter to the detective, the psycho has to strike close to home, and that tends to be one coincidence too far for me.
Dennis Lehane does very well with this book, though. He seems to specialise in tales where a group of loosely connected people share a much tighter common past, and an incident that bound them together forever, or else split their bonds completely. The killings that take place around Patrick Kenzie here have little in common, at first glance, other than Kenzie himself. The killer seems to be going out of his way to entangle Kenzie in the whole mess, to threaten him, and to teach him an obscure but deadly lesson.
The police and the FBI do get involved in the case, and they are instrumental in taking the killer down eventually, but the book is about much more than just solving a series of murders. In the course of the story, it brings the characters face to face with the most shocking evil and violence and forces them to answer the question: what would you do? How far would you go to save your family and friends if they were threatened? It’s a fascinating and scary look into the dark depths of human capabilities. Gripping right to the very end.