“At the heart of this blend of suspense, forensic science, eerie and sadistic sexuality, and good old-fashioned storytelling is a dedicated but lonely detective, Lieutenant Carmine Delmonico. The year is 1965, the setting a university town in Connecticut, and serial killers are still referred to as “multiple murderers.” Profiling hasn’t even begun, so Delmonico has to go it alone on a frantic learning curve that has the killer always two steps ahead of him.” “The story begins when parts of the body of a young woman are found in a research center for neurology privately funded by one of the university’s greatest benefactors.” “It swiftly develops that the killer is very possibly a member of the research facility and that this is not his first murder. With great cunning and daring, he targets a “type” of young woman, following which the women are subjected to unspeakable torture and rape, and finally a horrible death.” “The suspects are many and varied, and include a wealthy and ambitious young Indian eager to win a Nobel Prize; the professional head of the institute, who does something peculiar in his basement; an internationally renowned epilepsy clinician; a neurochemist with a taste for fine food, wine, and music; a Japanese with rarefied and strange tastes; and a business manager named Desdemona Dupre, a tough, well-educated woman, full of common sense, for whom Delmonico feels a growing, risky attraction.” As the serial murders begin to mount – the killer is getting more and more bloodthirsty and bold – and the media and anguished parents begin to put pressure on the governor, Delmonico and the forceful, enigmatic Miss Dupre are drawn deeper and deeper into the secrets of the suspects and toward an old family scandal as shocking as it is bizarre. But is the scandal something quite separate, or does it lie at the roots of the present killings?
Colleen McCullough is not a mystery/thriller writer, so imagine my surprise when I saw this book in one of the bookshelves I visited. Her historical fiction is lovely for digging deep into places of history and the depth they give to people of the time. I love mysteries, so I’m pleased to see the lush writing style in a mystery.
The problem with many mystery/thrillers are the unnecessary twists and turns, packed with suspense or cliffhangers that don’t make sense. This book has all of those, together with the generic caricatures of detectives, bad guys, and the obvious plot device. Even then, they’re not bad at all. With a competent writer, these tropes work much better.
The premise of the book is disturbing, and you can’t help but care about the characters. It’s a fascinating read and quite the departure for Colleen McCullough for the better.