It’s a tough gig, being the daughter of James Lee Burke. In her recent thriller, Alafair Burke gives it her best, featuring rookie detective Ellie Hatcher of the NYPD. On her morning run, Ellie comes upon a gathering of exercise buffs staring at the mutilated body of a young woman who had come to New York with two friends on spring break, planning a few wild nights on the town before heading back to Indiana.
Reluctant to leave the club where she is dancing, Chelsea Hart promises to meet her friends in time for their flight but never makes it back to the hotel. As the first detective on the scene, it is Ellie’s job to break the news to Chelsea’s girlfriends and her parents.
Only a week in Homicide, Hatcher has yet to gain the trust of fellow officers, especially since she came to the squad earlier than most. Thirty and attractive, Ellie is noticed by her fellow officers, happily partnered with the likeable and efficient JJ Rogan.
Quickly converging on the crime scene, the police gather evidence and track Chelsea’s last movements the night before her murder. Hatcher and Rogan leading the charge, the detectives get lucky, identifying a suspect early on; on board, the DA rushes to call in the grand jury.
Of course, there are unexpected complications: we know the suspect isn’t the killer in spite of circumstantial evidence; Ellie begins to doubt her own evidence, given information received by the father of another slain girl; and Ellie has been keeping company with a reporter, causing her boss to suspect his new detective as the source of a spate of stories about Chelsea’s mutilation - facts kept from the public.
The plot is thin, if eager, at first, Ellie Hatcher a likeable enough character, if a bit too enthusiastic in her new position. But the DA’s office is Burke’s turf and she knows it well, the ins and outs of politicizing investigations, the building of solid evidence, the need for and threat from a greedy press, and the cost of making mistakes when a potential serial killer is involved.
Very Law and Order, the text is explicit, police procedures accurately portrayed, indicating the pace of such investigations especially in the first critical hours, the sensibilities of the shocked families of crime victims, and the difficulties witnesses face when confronting the accused on trial.
By the time the action ratchets up in the final chapters, Hatcher has proven her mettle, the killer far from police radar until Ellie makes a critical connection. By then the situation is resolved, Ellie the beneficiary, at least temporarily, of a proud squad.