Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Last Known Victim" by Erica Spindler

In post-Katrina New Orleans, several severed right hands are found in an old refrigerator. About the same time, Captain Patti O'Shay's husband, also a police captain, is found murdered. Both cases quickly go cold. Two years later, both cases get re-opened when a body is discovered with its right hand missing. Underneath the body is O'Shay's husband's police badge.

The investigation quickly establishes a link to young stripper Yvette Borger, who believes she is being stalked by an obsessed secret admirer who calls himself "The Artist". Along with detectives Spencer Malone and Stacy Killian, O'Shay puts her career on the line to protect Yvette and possibly uncover her husband's murderer. However, Yvette is soon uncovered as a less-than-credible witness, with much of her story not adding up. Is there a killer on the loose, or is Yvette simply just stringing them all along in a bizarre fantasy of her own making?

This is probably Spindler's best work to date. While never an outstanding writer, I've always found her books to be solid, dependable thrillers, if a little predictable. "Last Known Victim" is suspenseful, fast-paced and has many plot twists, keeping the truth neatly hidden. I was quite pleased that I was unable to anticipate the identity of the killer. Keeping matters lively was the antagonistic relationship between Yvette and the members of the police force. She's an insolent brat, no doubt, but I actually really enjoyed the character. I'm sure many readers will find her a pain in the ass, yet I felt Spindler did a good job in juggling her good and bad characteristics. Nothing worse than a cliched, straight-forward stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold. I'm not saying Yvette is a fully-rounded, complex individual akin to something you might find in literature, but her antics were believable under the circumstances, and often amusing.

The only minor quibble I have here is the relationship between Spencer and Stacy (they appeared previously in "Killer Takes All"). Spencer's off-hand "macho" no-big-deal marriage proposal reeks of the sort of synthetic dramatic tension found only in fiction, whether it be book or film. I've known plenty of guys over the years who have gotten engaged (several just recently) and married, and they all took it pretty darn seriously. The resulting fall-out from his ridiculous proposal is tiresome and doesn't ring true at all. Then again, for most of the novel Spencer doesn't exactly come across as particularly cluey, so maybe he really is brain-dead.

Thankfully, however, that only comprises a small part of the novel (most other crime novels these days, it would seem, focus on the relationship aspect more than the crime aspect, yes I'm looking at you, Karin Slaughter). Here, Spindler mostly seems focused on delivering an exciting, twisty murder mystery and she succeeds.

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