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Review: 'UNSUB' is intelligent, compelling page-turner

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/26/2017 By BRUCE DESILVA, Associated Press
This cover image released by Dutton shows "Unsub," by Meg Gardiner. (Dutton via AP) © The Associated Press This cover image released by Dutton shows "Unsub," by Meg Gardiner. (Dutton via AP)

"UNSUB" (Dutton), by Meg Gardiner

A serial killer known only as "The Prophet" terrorized the San Francisco Bay area with a series of ritualized killings in the 1990s, taunting the authorities with cruel mind games that left the lead detective who hunted him a broken man. Then, as abruptly as they began, the killings stopped, and the killer vanished.

Now, 20 years later, the killings have begun again, and Caitlin Hendrix, a young detective haunted by her shattered father's failure to catch the madman the first time, vows to bring the seemingly unstoppable psychopath down.

That is the premise of "UNSUB," the latest thriller by Edgar Award-winning novelist Meg Gardiner.

Serial killers have long been a staple of crime stories, with too many novelists and scriptwriters striving to top each other by making each new fictional psychopath more twisted, brutal and terrifying than the last. From TV's "Criminal Minds" to hundreds of predictably grizzly novels, it's all become a bit tiresome.

But Gardiner's novel breathes new life into the sub-genre with her mastery of police procedure; with superb characterizations of her heroine, the heroine's father and the killer; and with enough twists and turns to leave fans of TV's "Scandal" and "How to Get Away With Murder" short of breath.

The result is an intelligent, sharply written, compelling page-turner that is satisfying on every level.

Best of all, the novel ends with a cliff-hanger reminiscent of an early Godzilla movie — the one in which the monster was finally vanquished, the hero was being cheered and the scene suddenly shifted to an underwater chamber where a huge egg was about to hatch. You knew, then, that there had to be a sequel.

The conclusion of "UNSUB" makes a similar promise, and Gardiner, in an exchange of emails, confirmed that readers will soon be hearing from Caitlin Hendrix again.

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including "The Dread Line."

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