Detective Robert Hunter, after tip off, discovers his rookie partner nailed to a cross behind a bulletproof door, heart strapped to a monitor which will trigger explosives if it flat lines. There are three buttons, only one of which will open the bulletproof door, and there’s a clock ticking down from sixty seconds.
Los Angeles has a serial killer. One that’s intelligent enough to murder their victims in one place but leave the body in another for the police to find. This means there are no forensic leads, no brilliant forensic trick that uncovers the killer. This killer also has a surgeon’s precision and a love of torture. With no apparent connection between the victims, the detectives stall.
The plot doesn’t though: that lives up to the blurbs, tight, slick and compelling. Stylistically different, but Chris Carter shares James Lee Burke’s sense of pacing and place. “Crucifix Killer” isn’t just a cat and mouse game between detective and murderer. Chris Carter holds a mirror up to the detectives too: how do the police uphold the law when surrounded by people who don’t? Doesn’t the corruption they deal with on a daily basis rub off on them too? Similar to questions asked by James Ellroy, although Chris Carter is less concerned with politics and more focused on the effects of their work on the detectives. One of whom is challenged when a pimp and dealer, who takes care of his high class prostitutes, leads the detective to a snuff movie operation. The detective’s first reaction is to tell the pimp to back off and let the law take over. But then evidence is uncovered that some of these movies involved children. The pimp is as horrified and outraged at the detective. The criminals here have a moral code too and one the detectives can understand if not subscribe too. Chris Carter can draw fully rounded characters and appreciates people can do the wrong thing for the right reason and can also do the right thing for the wrong reason. The serial killer is not completely evil, there is an underlying logic to their motives.
There are a couple of first novel nerves: a tendency to give back stories of minor characters, such as the morgue assistant, and a minor character’s appearance is described by two different characters to no apparent purpose. Both forgivable and both easily cured with a dose of confidence.
The detectives, however, aren’t short of ideas and the plot twists and turns to a satisfying ending. The tension is controlled like a professional. Chris Carter has earnt his place on my “one to watch” list.