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by Allison Brennan
MIRA, February 2020
464 pages
ISBN: 0778309444

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Murder mysteries and police procedurals have come a long way since the days of Agatha Christie. The best books in these genres today are subtly layered; they include complex psychological explorations of the motives of not just the criminals but the victims and investigators. You can read an Elizabeth George Inspector Linley novel as a straight whodunnit, but the stories are always deeply enriched by the characters' relationships and personal struggles. Many other authors writing in these genres incorporate similar psychological detail, endowing their novels with considerable literary merit.

Alas, THE THIRD TO DIE is no such offering. Allison Brennan does make a determined effort to explore the inner lives of her characters, but the results are clumsy and repetitive, the thoughts and feelings of her characters predictable and often dull. So rather than adding depth and nuance to the story, the time spent inside her characters' minds and hearts simply slows the pace.

She brings together an interesting assortment of investigators, with the potential for lively complications. The FBI agent in charge, Matt Cosca, is just launching the FBI Mobile Response unit (designed to travel the country investigating crimes up close and personal) when the Triple Killer strikes again. The FBI profiler closest to this serial killer (who strikes 3 times, 3 days apart, at 3 year intervals ) has sworn off the FBI and goes through interminable soul-searching before deciding that much as she doesn't want to, she simply has to take this case. Kara Quinn, an LAPD undercover agent on forced leave, happens to find the first victim in the book, so she gets involved despite having a very bad relationship with the FBI in LA. The local Liberty Lake police, inexperienced in murder cases, are also brought in, along with several new mobile response unit agents.

There are so many investigators from so many backgrounds that it is hard to keep track. There's also plenty of conflict, sexual attraction, self-doubt, impatience, etc. It weighs down and almost obscures the serial killer plot, which goes nowhere until about halfway through the book. There are no clues, no one knows who the killer might be or why his signature murders take place when and where they do. Over and over again (when not reflecting on how the female investigator is really very hot) the different characters review this dismal lack of evidence and ponder inconclusively on the case.

Eventually, readers with the patience to plough through all this mulling are rewarded. The murder plot unfolds and is suspenseful, with a few unexpected twists. However, the killer (inside whose mind we also spend considerable time) proves surprisingly dense, given that he has pulled off seven murders without leaving a trace. It takes him forever to realize that this army of investigators is actually onto him. Nonetheless, late in the book, Brennan does grab and hold the reader's attention; suspense builds and the finale is quite satisfying.

But it's a long haul to get there. An incisive edit of THE THIRD TO DIE would have focussed the story and improved the pace dramatically.

Meg Westley is a writer and retired educator living in Stratford, Ontario.

Reviewed by Meg Westley, February 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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