The 4th Man
I’ll be blunt here. I don’t approve of the short story prequel trend as I find one of two things tends to happen with this particular gimmick. The first is that I wind up paying an extra few dollars for information that is absolutely vital to the story and should have been included in the book. The second is that I pay an extra few dollars for a mildly interesting story that has absolutely nothing to do with the book it is a prequel to. The 4th Man falls into the latter category.
The initial case was handled badly. Convinced the ex-boyfriend had done it, the police had bungled a bit with evidence and witnesses and wound up being unable to prosecute. Ten years later, the cold case lands on the desk of super cop D. D. Warren. The young female victim was found in her college library, strangled in the stairwell, missing only her shoes. There was no DNA evidence, no signs of struggle, no sexual assault, and no witnesses. What D.D. does have is a system which logged in students and visitors to the facility so that she knows who was in the building with Jaylin Banks on the night she was murdered. Interviews and leg work have whittled the field down from roughly sixty people to four: The ex-boyfriend, two campus security guards and a mysterious someone Jaylin had spent a lot of phone time with in the days prior to her death.
Unable to get a conviction without a confession and unlikely to get a confession with so many possible suspects, D. D. brings in ex-FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and his wife, former police officer Rainie Conner, to consult. This was a “huh” moment for me since D.D. has handled much harder cases than this on her own but – onward. D.D.’s work has shown that all three of the men they have in custody have lied in regards to the events of that night but it will be up to Pierce and Rainie to figure out just which lie is the lie. The one the killer is hiding behind.
Lisa Gardner always writes an interesting mystery and this short tale is no exception. The lack of evidence, the length of time passed and the mysterious fourth man, plus the youth and sweetness of the victim combine to make it compelling. The whittling away of the lies and the human foibles revealed when they crumble make for fascinating reading, too. The problem is, this story does nothing to introduce us to the characters taking part in it. If I hadn’t known them from previous works, I would have found them completely one dimensional and uninteresting. It also does nothing to establish them as investigators; there is simply no reason for Raine and Pierce to be consulting, they aren’t needed. D.D. has dealt with much harder cases and much more difficult suspects.
The 4th Man is perhaps a treat for fans who simply can’t get enough of this author’s work, but for the most part it is a simple tale which does nothing to establish its characters or the series of which they are part. I’m still looking forward to the writer’s next novel, Right Behind You, which is coming out at the end of January, because her books never disappoint. But unless you are a super fan who needs to read everything Ms. Gardner writes I would give this quick tale a pass.