What is it about the Pacific Northwest that seems to attract mass murderers who prey on the most vulnerable of society's downtrodden? Had Spokane journalist Jess Walter made this tantalizing question the centerpiece of his debut thriller, he might have come up with something other than a relatively derivative retelling of an all-too-familiar plot. Instead, he takes the idea as well as the setting for his novel right from the 2000 headlines that trumpeted the arrest of serial killer Robert Yates for the murders of several young prostitutes in eastern Washington state.
Detective Caroline Mabry, still suffering the after-effects of a domestic violence incident that turned deadly, is assigned to investigate a killing spree that begins with the discovery of the mutilated body of first one and then several other prostitutes who were last seen on the stroll in a part of town apparently due for wholesale development. Partnered with her old flame Alan Dupree, a married detective whose sarcastic humor and iconoclastic ways are barely tolerated in the department, Caroline's investigation focuses on one Lenny Ryan, already sought in the seemingly unrelated murder of a young drug dealer. The two headline-grabbing FBI profilers brought into the case to help the beleaguered local police in their search for Ryan provide Walter with a subplot that slows down the narrative and adds little except a few cheap shots to the action. Mabry and Dupree will seem hauntingly familiar to readers of Ridley Pearson's popular cop thrillers starring Lou Boldt and Daphne Matthews. Yet Walter is a solid writer with a good command of his craft, and if serial killers are your style, Over Tumbled Graves won't disappoint. --Jane Adams
From Publishers Weekly
Shifting ably to fiction, true crime specialist Walter (In Contempt; Every Knee Shall Bow), turns out a strong, character-driven serial-killer thriller. In Spokane, Wash., a handful of homicide investigators watch helplessly as one prostitute after another is found murdered in a downtown park. Sgt. Alan Dupree, an old-style cop who eschews modern police investigative methods like criminal profiling, initially leads the team. As the so-called Southbank Killer's death toll rises, Dupree is replaced by Chris Spivey, an arrogant upstart with great academic credentials but no street savvy. Spivey brings in two nationally known serial-killer profilers, who waste precious time belittling each other personally and professionally while drawing up what are essentially boilerplate profiles. Spivey also recruits Det. Caroline Mabry, a hard-working investigator who manages to rise above squad-room politics and disagreements about how the case should be handled. Mabry is a complex character, suffering from a raft of personal problems as well as career doubts. She and Dupree finally uncover evidence that the whole investigation has been built on a faulty premise. Unlike many entries in the serial killer category, Walter's stays fresh by placing character development above shock value. His focus is on the human side of police work, not on the killer and his ghoulish behavior. (Feb.)Forecasts: A rave endorsement from James Patterson, who's not nearly as blurb-happy as is, say, Stephen King, could go a ways in making readers take notice of this fine first novel.
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