“The Way You Look Tonight” Richard Madeley (Simon and Schuster) – book review

The Way You Look Tonight Richard Madeley Book Cover

Stella Arnold, first class psychology student, is staying with American family friends for the summer before taking up a place at Smith College in 1962. The family friends are academics, one of whom has written speeches for John F Kennedy and has the opportunity to introduce Stella to him. The meeting is serendipitous because the Kennedys have a political headache in the shape of a serial killer operating in the Florida Keys who is targeting young women. Not only does the local governor want to stop the killings but is also concerned about the effect on the tourist trade and local economy because these will affect his ability to be re-elected. Stella is drafted in as an advisory assistant to the FBI to help draw a psychological profile of the killer.

Stella has a strong personal interest in studying psychopaths. Her biological father was one. Just before the Second World War, her parents married hurriedly because her father was in the Royal Air Force. His plane was shot down over France and he was presumed dead. However, Stella’s mother found him years later. He’d carved out a career as an extortionist and murderer. As part of his scheme to buy his way into a French criminal family, he kidnapped Stella, then aged ten, until her maternal grandfather came to the rescue. In self-defence, her grandfather had killed her father. Stella’s interest was partly triggered by wanting to understand what made her father act in this way and partly by concerns that she may have inherited some of her father’s psychopathy.

Interspersed with Stella’s story are chapters from the killer’s viewpoint. Through these readers learn that he’s a taxi driver who drives a nail into one of his victim’s car tyres then follows her so he can offer to help when she stops to deal with a slow puncture. He kills by stabbing and dumps the body near a beach, usually leaving the murder weapon stuck in one of the victim’s eyes. He buys a new knife every time he plans to kill. He developed a taste for killing whilst serving for the army in the Korean war. Typically he enjoys the feeling he’s smarter than the police and follows newspaper reports when a body is discovered.

The FBI agent, Lee Foster, soon discovers that Stella’s no pretty pushover. She may be young but her academic credentials are impeccable and she doesn’t hesitate to stand up for herself. It’s not long before she works out the killer is a taxi driver. She also figures that the killer’s escaped by boat when police roadblocks limit the killer’s options. Discovery of the boat narrows the search to the Keys. Stella returns to start her term at college, still tending the flame of a nascent romance with Lee Foster. An invitation to a White House reception follows because politicians believe the killer has been identified and it’s now a simple case of catching him. The reception is postponed due to the Cuba missile crisis.

However, the press has published a photograph of Stella, the English rose advising the FBI. The killer knows what she looks like and who she is. More chillingly, she fits the profile of his victims. In wanting to celebrate her success and keep their careers on track, the politicians have put Stella’s life in danger. Lee Foster and the police department still think this is a simple case of tracing and finding the killer. Readers know that the killer actually plans to capture and crucify Stella. When she fails to turn up for a press conference, Lee Foster knows she’s been captured. But can he find her before the killer puts his plan into action?

“The Way You Look Tonight” gambles that the reader is prepared to suspend disbelief at the incredible coincidence of Stella’s arrival and connections to the Kennedys but this is merely a device to get the story started and Richard Madeley’s storytelling abilities soon overcome this. The book also gives the impression that the author is a little in love with Stella: occasionally she’s just too perfect. Although “The Way You Look Tonight” follows on from “Someday I’ll Find You”, it also reads as a stand alone novel.

However, Richard Madeley is a natural storyteller with a gift for timing. His killer’s background gives his motives credibility. He targets women because he thinks they’re weaker and more compliant not for sexual reasons. His weakness is his perceived invincibility. Lee Foster is engaging as a young, jaded agent tired from a previous case when he’s pulled in to work on the Keys Killer but finding interest in his job is rekindled as Stella ignites his passionate side. He remains professional though, not allowing love to cloud his judgment. His respect for Stella influences the team he’s working with. A great story to read for distraction from a chilly, damp late summer’s evening.

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