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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Play Dead. Richard Montanari. William Heinemann (2008)

A very gripping serial killer thriller. While investigating a cold case, the murder of a young runaway whose body was found posed in a glass display case in an abandoned building, detectives Kevin Byrne and Janet Balzano are given clues that lead to the discovery of a second murder. These two deaths are part of larger "performance" by the killer that taken together are a challenge to the city of Philadelphia to understand and unravel the puzzle he is creating. The story very well constructed and paced, the reveals are carefully set up and effective and the strands of the plot are expertly bound together.
The dreadfully cunning and theatrical scheme pursued by the killer does not provide the energy or momentum of the book. The killer is given scope and background, yet he remains more of a performer than anything else, he lacks a core of humanity. He is strongly contrasted with the rest of the cast who are all given a twist of life. Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano are wonderful characters, they are competent professionals trying to combine the terrible demands of their jobs with still having time and care for others. They have to work hard as they are surrounded by a vivid and compelling cast who all provide life and colour to the story and want to be seen and heard.
Richard Montanari never is seduced by the killer, he is clearly on the side of those trying to prevent his actions and to save lives. The urgency in the book comes from the race to save lives rather than the details of how they are lost.This is a tremendously accomplished book, thoughtful and thrilling, a compulsive pleasure.

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