Alafair Burke’s new series heroine, NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, has really come alive for me over the course of two books. Ellie is young and charmingly unjaded about her job and the things she sees. She was first introduced in Dead Connection and I enjoyed Burke’s fast-paced narrative.
One of the things that I like most about Ellie is her innocence about life. Sure, she’s great at catching killers and breaking down witnesses, and even at thinking outside the box. But when it comes to personal relationships and how to manage them, Ellie struggles and gets blindsided by events and people she trusts but shouldn’t.
She’s also an organic character. Things in her world change, and she changes with them. The partner she had in the first book (and I’d really recommend reading these books in order rather than jumping in with this one) is gone. Her acceptance into the world of the homicide detectives hasn’t been easy because of the way she got into her present position and who her past partner was.
Despite her charm, Ellie also comes with a lot of baggage. Her father was a cop, and there’s a lot of mystery concerning his death. At least, to Ellie there is. That early, unresolved loss has left her with a lot of questions and a history of being in the news trying to trigger a new investigation into her father’s passing. I believe Burke will eventually deal with that issue, but I’m patiently waiting. Both novels have been stamina reads, putting me in the chair and reading into the wee hours of the night.
You just can’t put this book down. From the opening passages of young Chelsea Hart’s murder, to Ellie’s discovery of the body while on her morning run with her brother, Burke dragged me relentlessly through the twists and turns of her plot. I dogged Ellie’s heels, in constant competition with her to ferret out the clues and the trail that would lead me to the serial killer’s identity.
This first gruesome murder eventually leads Ellie back into her ex-partner’s investigations. It doesn’t take her long to realize that he’d been onto the serial killer years ago, and that only the serial killer’s mysterious sabbatical from murdering young women probably kept those cases from being solved.
Jess, Ellie’s brother, is also in this novel, though not as much as he had been in the first. Jess has quickly become a favorite of mine and I really missed him in this book. Where Ellie is naïve, Jess has got connections all over New York – most of them women he’s dated or gotten to know. However, Jess can’t deal with the harsher aspects of Ellie’s job and that really comes on stage during the early pages of this novel.
J. J. Rogan, Ellie’s new partner, is an intriguing conundrum as well. He sticks out from the homicide department as well and carries his own cross. But I liked how well he and Ellie fit together. I was also relieved to find that they weren’t going to get locked up in a romantic tangle. They’re both bright and driven, young enough to still play the game every minute of the day and believe they’re going to make a difference.
The investigation moves quickly through the book. I enjoyed all the directions and the landscape Ellie follows and explores while she chases the killer. Burke resides in New York, and the city comes to life in her pages.
Since she’s also been an assistant district attorney and is currently a law professor, Burke’s dealing with the legal system in the book is dead-on. The frustrations on both sides of the prosecutor’s table (police officer and district attorney) get described well and are easily understood. You can learn a lot about the system and the way the criminal game is played in the courtroom without ever knowing you’re getting an education.
But it’s Ellie’s chase, her constant battle to figure out the clues and to deal with her boyfriend’s betrayal, that really drive this story. You never forget that Ellie is a woman, a real person, in addition to being a homicide detective. Burke lavishes detail without overwhelming the reader, provides machine gun fire dialogue riddled with fun pop culture references, and challenges the reader to a blistering mystery rife with danger.