Monday, April 30, 2012

"Don't Talk To Strangers" by Bethany Campbell

A serial killer is using the Internet to seduce, stalk and murder young women. He has several profiles in the on-line community known as Omega Moon. He's so far gone undetected, until he murders a young woman named Gretchen. One of Gretchen's friends - Edmon Welkin - has noticed she has seemingly disappeared under eerily similar circumstances to another woman he knew on-line. When the police don't take him seriously, he consults private investigator Hayden Ivanovich.

Through Hayden, two college students - mature-age Carrie Blue (also a former policewoman) and immature, insecure Brooke Tharpe - are recruited to go on-line with false identities in an attempt to draw the killer out. Carrie herself is unprepared for just how twisted on-line communities can be. It's a race against time to stop the killer (whose name is Jon Rosmer - don't worry, I'm not spoiling anything) as he has already set his sights on Lynette Pollson, a facially-scarred woman.

It was a little difficult getting into "Don't Talk To Strangers". This was mainly due to the characterisations. I couldn't really warm to any of them. They're not unlikeable per se, but nobody jumped off the page to grab my interest or sympathy. Basically, everybody had boulder-sized chips on their shoulders and it grew a little tiresome. The set-up is also a bitiffy. A private investigator drawing civilians into a job that could prove risky? Later on in the novel he even recommends them acting as bait. I imagine their isn't some code of ethics that private investigators abide by, but it didn't ring true. It also detracted from the character of Hayden Ivanovich, who was easily the least interesting of the bunch.

 Otherwise, once the novel hit its groove, it got markedly better. Published in 1996, the Internet and technology itself has moved in leaps and bounds, so obviously these elements are quite dated. But the scenario of predators using the Internet to stalk their prey is still frighteningly plausible, so the book never suffers in this respect. It's scary in itself how not much has changed in over fifteen years in regards to the dangers of hooking up on-line. Proceedings get quite suspenseful as it heads towards a surprisingly decent climax. Taking into consideration the positives and negatives, "Don't Talk To Strangers" is worth a look should you manage to stumble across it.

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