Chris Carter doesn’t just draw on his extensive experience as a criminal psychologist but his sense of timing and pace suggest his music background is also a strong influence. “The Death Sculptor” satisfies readers after an intelligent story with pace.
A terminally-ill DA is found murdered, brutally, with some of his body parts, amputated while the man was still alive, used as a sculpture. The man’s nurse had unexpectedly gone back to his bedside to retrieve something but failed to turn on the bedroom light when she did so. It’s only in the morning after when the nurse discovers the body that she also discovers the killer’s message, “Good job you didn’t turn on the lights” and realises that a not doing a simple, natural action is the difference between her life and possible death. Because of the deceased’s position, a lot of political pressure comes down on detectives Hunter and Garcia to get quick results and a case that will stick, two tasks that are incompatible.
When a retired police officer is found similarly amputated whilst still alive and with a sculpture made from his body parts, the pressure is ramped up further as the police don’t take kindly to one of their own being killed and Garcia and Hunter how have to ensure premature action made by colleagues doesn’t jeopardise their investigation.
What seems to be an initial hindrance in guise of help is a member of staff from the DA’s office being sent over to assist the detectives. Usefully Alice Beaumont proves to be a database expert and not above hacking into databases to speed up information requests. Their first theory is that the killer is someone the DA put in jail or was jailed as a result of a lost case with a desire for revenge. Even when the list is slightly shortened by cases that also involved the retired policeman, there are still hundreds of names to search through and eliminate.
Meanwhile there are the sculptures that give a message, but what message? An art expert suggests ‘control’. After a long night staring at them, Hunter realises they are shadow puppets and the sculptures have to be looked at from the right angle to get the shadowy image the killer intends them to see. The DA’s sculpture means betrayal. The policeman’s sculpture suggests there are two more deaths planned. The art expert wasn’t far wrong: the serial killer is in control and betrayal is the motive, but can Hunter and Garcia solve the case before the FBI is drafted in by an impatient DA?
The killer’s motives are credible and born from a fully rounded character. Alice Beaumont was named after the winner of a competition to lend a name to a book character, so is intelligent and attractive but with restraint, making her believable. The relationship between Hunter and Garcia is developed from previous novels, rather than statically remaining the same as when they were first paired together. Minor characters feel fully-drawn and rounded. Some author’s names act as a quality mark and Chris Carter’s marks a quality, intelligent, fast-paced thriller.
By Emma Lee