The Killing Game
I miss romance writer Iris Johansen; some of her romances are on my all time list of favorites. This book is not a romance by any definition. I don’t believe it even falls under the category of romantic suspense. There are romantic elements, but at it’s heart, this book is a psychological thriller. The focus of the book is not on the relationship between the hero and heroine, but the relationship between the heroine and a serial killer, and how she deals with his deadly mind games.
Eve Duncan is a forensic sculptor; she can reconstruct faces by working with the skull of a victim. Eve’s own child, Bonnie, was murdered 10 years ago by a serial killer, and her body was never found. Eve clawed her way out of the ghetto at 16, when she discovered she was pregnant. Bonnie was her world. Bonnie’s killer liked to murder children, and would not release the locations of their bodies, even when he faced his own execution. Eve has had a difficult time not being able to bring Bonnie’s body home, and has made it her life’s work to help families of other victims, by reconstructing their faces from skulls located through police investigations. Eve has never given up hope that Bonnie’s body might be located.
Former FBI agent, now Atlanta police detective, Joe Quinn, has been on the look out for Bonnie’s body for 10 years. Joe has made it his mission to be in every location where a child’s skeleton has been found, earning him the nickname of “skeleton man.” He has developed a close friendship with Eve over the past 10 years, and has been there for her through thick and thin. A large number of skeletons have just been found, thanks to a freak accident of nature, and one of them is a child’s. Joe alerts Eve to the find, and tries to bring her in surreptitiously to do the facial reconstruction.
As always, the media gets wind of the situation, and the killer notices. Dom feels his kills have been a tad stale recently, but the excitement of playing with Eve gives him something to look forward to. Even better is the fact that he has information about her daughter that he can use to manipulate her feelings.
The rest of the novel is a viscious game played by a serial killer. Dom targets a young girl named Jane and it is up to Eve to save her. This book gave me the guilty feeling of watching a car wreck about to happen, knowing there was nothing I could do to stop the accident, but had to watch, nonetheless. Thankfully, Eve is a strong heroine, determined not to let Dom dictate her life or her emotions. Unfortunately, she feels she does not need Joe either, so he takes a back seat for much of the book. If he weren’t a stubborn hero, there would have been no relationship between them other than friendship, period. Joe’s character is a mystery for the entire book. The reader never gets to truly know him, other than through Eve’s eyes, which were pretty closed to his feelings most of the book.
I found many of the characters’ actions extremely implausible. How was it that Joe could leave his job at the Atlanta PD to travel across country whenever a child’s skeleton was found? Eve also singlehandedly rescues Jane from a secure location, which I found highly unbelievable. The revelation of the killer was also problematic, however I can’t explain why without spoiling the book.
As a psychologicial thriller, the books works more than it misses. But with the details that don’t work and that lack of the romance which could easily have been built into the story, it’s not as good as it could have been.