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by Peter Blauner
Minotaur, September 2018
448 pages
ISBN: 1250117410

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Good news: Lourdes Robles is back, after her strong debut in PROVING GROUND, and this time we didn't have to wait a decade for a new book by this talented author. A body has washed up on the beach at Far Rockaway at the eastern tip of Queens, so close to Nassau County it's unclear whose jurisdiction it is. The body, though long-decayed, has been preserved in a tough plastic shroud weighed down with rocks. Strangely, small pebbles seem to have filled the victim's mouth and throat, and the skeletal hands cup a collection of small bones: she had been pregnant when she was killed.

But first, there's a chilling prologue. A crotchety old man living near the beach has settled in to wait out a storm. This hurricane they're calling Sandy won't force him out of his home, no sir. His windows are boarded up, his generator is going, and he's fine until some annoying person starts ringing his doorbell. A girl, a manacle hanging from her wrist, is begging to be let in. Some kind of trick. He keeps his door locked and turns up the sound on his television to drown out her voice and the howling wind.

Stubbornly sticking with the case, Lourdes begins to connect her body with other murders committed over the years, women's bodies dumped near the Sunrise Highway, which runs the length of Long Island near the Atlantic. It crosses through Nassau County into Sussex, where the police chief regards Lourdes' theory about a serial killer with dismissal. They don't have that kind of murder. Except, of course, they do and he knows far more about it than anyone. His first brush with murder was as a teenager, providing key testimony in a murder case in 1977, putting a black man away for raping and suffocating a young woman by jamming sticks and leaves down her throat. The case that started a young district attorney up the career ladder carries along his witness until they are in full control of an entire county. Its police officers who have an enviable clear rate, keep up their stats by torturing designated perpetrators and planting evidence. Lourdes finds herself up against a powerful enemy, all the while fearing her vulnerable little sister Ysabel, missing for weeks, could be one of the killer's victims.

If you've sworn off serial killers, do yourself a favor and make an exception. Blauner's richly evoked characters come to life in a narrative that weaves a web between the past and the present. Just as important as the vivid characters is his use of language, poetic and often surprising. It's a compelling novel, but try not to turn the pages too quickly. His writing is worth savoring.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, August 2018

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