In Jilliane Hoffman’s Pretty Little Things, an online predator kidnaps underage girls, keeping them locked up for months before killing them. The South Florida police feverishly pursue him, hoping to prevent more homicides and rescue some victims. Although based on a frightening premise and sporting some major flaws, this book is a tense thriller that will keep you turning pages right up to the conclusion.
Elaine, Lainy to her friends, is the 13-year-old daughter of a chain-smoking woman who works long hours and chooses creeps for boyfriends. Her older sister has been known to run away from home, so when Lainy herself goes missing, the first thought of police is that she too has run. Special Agent Bobby Dees thinks that scenario doesn’t feel right. He should know; he’s one of the best at finding Miami’s missing kids. He’s also got a special reason for interest in this case; it reminds him of his own 16-year-old daughter Katy, who has been missing almost a year to the day. When a washed-up local television reporter is sent an oil painting depicting the grisly murder scene of a teenaged girl, Bobby and his team spring into action. Soon it’s clear they are dealing with a serial killer, whom they nickname “Picasso.” The race is on for Bobby figure out who Picasso is in time to save some missing girls, one of whom just might be Katy.
My reaction to the early chapters of Pretty Little Things was that the book was telegraphing its plot points, a feeling that resurfaced later as well. I didn’t successfully guess who the bad guy was, but when I found out, I thought, “of course.” It reminded me of a standard crime drama script; in fact, I could practically see the scenes as they would appear on screen.
Even so, I became engrossed in the hunt for the killer, and the pages flew by. I certainly could not guess every plot twist and turn, and as Bobby Dees worked the case, I rooted for him. He’s one of those wounded heroes you can’t help but like. In fact, there are several sympathetic characters, particularly Lainey, who goes from ordinary teen to victim in this heart-wrenching story arc.
If it were still summer, I’d call Pretty Little Things a beach read. Perhaps now that it’s fall, I should call it a rainy-day-with-nothing-to-do book. Either way, the book is a chilling crime novel that reminds us that people are not always who they seem on the Internet.