Saturday, September 12, 2009

"City Of Fear" by Alafair Burke

Generic title for a generic crime story in which homicide detective Ellie Hatcher comes across the dead body of a party girl while on a morning jog. She has cuts on her body and some of her hair has been hacked off. The investigation quickly leads to a prime suspect, Jake Myers, who hooked up with the dead girl at a club shortly before she died. The evidence against him is pretty tight, and all involved think they've got their man. But Ellie is then alerted to three old cold cases by a still-grieving father of one of the victims. All were young girls. All were snatched after being at popular clubs. And something has been done with their hair.

Ellie isn't sure whether to forge ahead with the case she has, or investigate further and see if she can make any links. The reader already knows that the same killer is behind all murders, so it's basically a matter of waiting for the book's characters to catch up. This is one of those books that's happy to just coast along without any surprises or originality. So much time is spent on Jake Myers - first building the case against him, then uncovering the conspiracy he hatched with buddies and lawyers to get somebody else to confess for him - that it simply becomes dull. We know that Jake isn't the killer! Give us a little something to keep us involved! The revelation that Ellie is connected to the case, and in the killer's sight - something that would happen much earlier in a better book - doesn't come until well into the third act.

"City Of Fear" is easy to read and does deliver some of the requirements of the genre. But just because you're not covering any new ground in the crime genre is no excuse to deliver something so lacking in suspense. Burke has got police procedure and law down pat - but so what? Just because it seems accurate doesn't make it interesting. This one needs far more surprises, to be more suspense-driven, to be more interesting, to even compete with the big names in crime.

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