Detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia are on the trail of a vicious serial killer. The first victim is a priest who has been decapitated and his head replaced with that of a dog's. The second victim is a real estate agent who is literally cooked alive. They eventually realise that somebody has murdered them according to their deepest, darkest fears. Now they must find what links the victims and stop anybody else from being next.
Complicating the case is their new boss Captain Barbara Blake, who likes to play by the book and keeps threatening to take them off the case if they don't tow the line. Also, the case introduces them to a young psychic girl called Mollie Woods, who provides them with some clues, but who is running from a dangerous past.
Carter's first novel "The Crucifix Killer" wasn't terribly good, but there were faint signs of promise. Thankfully, Carter mostly delivers on that promise, as "The Executioner" is a far tighter effort than its predecessor. Short chapters ensure that the reader powers through the fast-paced plot. The mystery behind the murderer's motive and the connection between the victims is engaging and suspenseful. The murders themselves are extremely mean-spirited and gory, giving the book some edge, and it probably shouldn't be read by the faint-hearted. The characterisation is thin, but the characters likeable enough to provide a solid anchor to the gruesome things going down around them.
The main problem here is Mollie Woods, the psychic girl. She's not a bad character - in fact, she's quite likeable and I cared about what happened to her. It was the psychic angle. It just didn't work. At all. In the end she doesn't provide the detectives with all that much to go on. She seems to be around simply so that there can be a sympathetic female character who is ultimately placed into mortal danger. But her situation and her past have very little to do with the main storyline. It basically just gets in the way.
Later on in the book the detectives are able to identify other people who are targets for the killer. One of them is female. Surely it would have made more sense to make this character the core sympathetic damsel in distress? It would have really upped the tension if a main character were at risk from the main villian. While I didn't dislike Molly, I simply couldn't figure out why Carter made her a psychic of all things, then failed to do anything significant with her supposed link to the killer.
Another element that annoyed me was the tendency to give an entire life history of insignificant characters. If they don't have any bearing on the story - I don't need to know! This even happens right in the middle of the book's climax! One minute I'm reading about main characters caught in a dire situation, the next I'm learning the history of some girl called Susan who's been mentioned maybe twice in the whole book. It's annoying and unnecessary. However, Carter isn't the first author to do this and obviously will not be the last.
Otherwise, I'm very pleased to find another author who has easily outdone their clunky first novel. "The Executioner" was grisly, fast-paced fun and I will be picking up the next one.