Fictional sociopaths are always fascinating to follow because of the dual life they often lead. There's the face they show the world, then there’s the face that only we, the reader, see. That's also why they make such delicious villains in the thriller genre. Lis Wiehl's third Triple Threat novel, Heart of Ice, is yet another version of this story. Watching the characters dance around each other, even when some of them don't realize they're actually being choreographed, makes for a great novel.
The "triple threat" team - federal prosecutor Allison Pierce, FBI agent Nicole Hedges, and TV reporter Cassidy Shaw - is up against a menace in their midst. Elizabeth Avery is a beautiful woman with issues. She manipulates everyone around her, causing some to commit crimes and others to lavish her with affection - and one man to kill for her. She befriends Cassidy and worms her way into the trio's lives, trying to set one friend against another in an attempt to keep them away from her dark secre, as she leaves a number of bodies in her wake.
Heart of Ice is the first Wiehl novel to show us the villain right from the start, and it's an effective tool. It allows us to see behind the mask, to witness Elizabeth's sociopathic tendencies in all their glory. We see how she manipulates people with her body or by appealing to their own vanity. It makes you want to reach through the pages and hit her upside the head, but it also makes you want to continue reading.
All of this is told in parallel with a case that Nicole and Allison are working on, one right out of today's headlines. Colton Foley, the rather unimaginatively named "Want Ad Killer," is almost a carbon copy of the real-life "Craigslist Killer," even down to his being a medical student, with wrist restraints among the evidence found in his house (it would have been nice if Wiehl had changed a few more details).
That being said, the attempt to pin him to the murders, especially with all of his friends and family maintaining his innocence, does make a great counterpoint to the Elizabeth Avery story. They're both sociopaths; it's just that only Foley has been caught so far. We don't get inside Foley's head, but the attempts to convict him give the book a more standard thriller feel that contrasts deliciously with Elizabeth.
Character development of the three regulars has often involved massive chunks of the narrative devoted to just that, sidelining the main plot at times. Wiehl thankfully avoids that pitfall this time by having Elizabeth play a big part in that development. She preys on Cassidy's insecurities about her friends, especially the feeling that the other two look down on her sometimes. Conflict among the three doesn't really have time to gestate, though.
Allison and Nicole are interesting to read about, especially the painful issue that Nicole has to deal with. Cassidy is still much too flighty and annoying, missing the obvious way too often. This can make the inevitable dinners or lunches between the three of them hard to read, especially when Cassidy pipes up with something so silly that readers roll their eyes.
Wiehl's plotting and prose are very good, however. She ties the stories together brilliantly, giving just enough airtime to each one before moving on to the next. She never lingers too long on one aspect of the plot. Even when she's explaining something about the legal system, or giving some behind-the-scenes information about how television news works, she manages to make it reasonably fresh. Readers of previous books may start snoozing when Wiehl explains how the grand jury system works yet again, but it is important for those readers whose first Wiehl book is Heart of Ice, so allowances have to be made.
While the conclusion of Heart of Ice isn't as pulse-pounding as probably intended, it does make the book hard to put down. The last fifty pages or so, as things begin to unravel, keep the reader riveted. (There's even a nice Mythbusters reference for fans of that show.)
All in all, Heart of Ice demonstrates marked improvement over Hand of Fate and almost equals the strength of the first book in the series. If Wiehl continues this upward curve, she'll have readers coming back begging for more.