My rating: 3.5+ of 5 stars
Detective Ben Wade and his then-wife, Rachel, returned to their hometown of Rancho Santa Elena for a peaceful, safe life for themselves and their daughter. After all, as a detective, Ben knows the darker side of life. But even the idyllic California community couldn't save his marriage with Rachel--his high school sweetheart--and now the two are divorced and jointly raising their teenage daughter, Emma. And, for the most part, Ben's career is pretty dull: nothing like his old LA one. That all changes when a serial killer starts haunting the area. They come around at night, slipping in doors and windows, and terrifying the residents of this planned community. At the same time, Ben is trying to figure out if a young Hispanic teen truly committed suicide. Are these two crimes interconnected? And how much destruction will this killer bring until found?
I'm a sucker for a good crime novel, so I was intrigued by the description of Alan Drew's book; I have never read anything by this author before. I'm not sure I realized the novel was actually set in the late 1980s; I tend to read more contemporary fiction, but I was pleasantly surprised by this mystery. Although mystery is somewhat of a misnomer. While there is a case to solve here--two really--this is far more a character-driven novel, with an intense focus on Ben, his personal life, and how his past life has made him into the detective and man he is now.
In many ways, this is a novel about the passage of time and the effects it has on a person. It is a novel about the effects of abuse, as well, and what it can do to someone. Can a child who suffers abuse come through unscathed? I wasn't expecting such a storyline when I started the novel, but it worked. It's quite well-done and while much of the book is often sad, it's well-written and the pages pass quickly.
The novel is told from three points of view: Ben; our serial killer; and Natasha Betencourt, the local assistant Medical Examiner. Of course, Natasha and Ben have a bit of a personal relationship (this is a novel, after all). And, sure, Ben often comes across as the cliched crime detective who doesn't always follow the rules. Because of this--and because of the California setting--I couldn't help but think of Michael Connelly's amazing Harry Bosch as I was reading this (Bosch probably being my all-time favorite fictional detective). I actually would sometimes even accidentally read "Ben" as "Bosch." Still, to be compared to Bosch and not come across completely lesser for it is pretty high praise. Ben is no Bosch, but he's a well-written character, even if he is a bit cliched from time to time. Yes, he's dealing with a past. Yes, he likes to break the rules to get the job done (hey, so does Bosch). My only issue was that it was implied that he sometimes let his detective work slip a bit due to his personal ties in one of the cases: that didn't seem right.
Still, overall I really enjoyed this novel. The two storylines--the first being the serial killer case, the second being the teen suicide--intersected well and kept the book moving. Ben's ties to the teen were surprising and gave the book an emotional depth I wasn't expecting. While I'm not sure Drew could keep up the emotional rollercoaster for every novel, I could see Detective Ben Wade becoming a recurring character in a series. If so, I would certainly read the next book. 3.5+ stars.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 05/23/2017.
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