Cain does love her serial killers. Gretchen Lowell has finally been incarcerated after three novels detailing the physical and emotional scarring of Detective Archie Sheridan of Portland, Oregon. Not to worry; there are plenty of monsters left in the world. As the Willamette River rises, threatening a flood as damaging as the historical 1948 flood, weather is established as a significant character in the unfolding cat-and-mouse drama that again features Sheridan and newspaperwoman Susan Ward. While Susan has recently become intrigued by the fate of one of the victims of the 1948 flood, Archie is learning that a spate of recent drowning deaths are in fact murders by poison, the “weapon” as bizarre as Gretchen Lowell’s outrageous contribution to the lexicon of crime.
As the body count rises, so does the river. A clever serial killer draws Archie deeper into his trap and a final confrontation where weather is a major player. Everything is wet in this thriller, the rising water permeating the environment with a threat to swallow trespassers whole, cop and killer alike. Against such an adversary, the public can be forgiven for neglecting the warnings of a murderer among them. True to form, Cain’s plot-driven narrative pounds along to an orchestrated finale of good versus evil, that messy moral quandary where choices come in shades of gray and absolutes are fungible. Between the flooding, Archie’s grim determination, Susan’s usual ill-timed pursuit of a story and the unfortunate corpses that litter the soggy terrain, Cain eschews character development and nuance for the rush. A few bones are cast to the skeptics - a missing boy manipulated by the killer, a detective past the point of resuscitation without brain damage, Sheridan’s dance with the oblivion of addiction - but the song remains the same.
Addicted to the adrenaline-fueled prose of the three former novels (Gretchen Lowell territory), a legion of fans probably expects more of the same and Cain has no difficulty providing it, although even the author has been unable to wean herself from Gretchen, the beautiful, bewitching psychopath who still haunts Archie no matter where he goes. But the narrative is predictably sensational, another demented killer obsessed with making a point, another bizarre – and outrageous- method of killing victims, the usual cliffhanger stuff. If heroic though superficial characters don’t meet your requirements in a thriller, these novels aren’t for you. But if Cain has carved a crude heart on your psyche like she has on Archie Sheridan’s chest and you like your battles between good and evil dramatic and waged to the death, this author provides the red meat her fans crave, the symbiotic relationship of serial killers and their hunters.