Modern forensic techniques play a major role in this thriller as Joe Gunther of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation accesses cutting-edge technology to solve a case that has become a nightmare. Three murders yield but one common thread: a single glistening drop of blood strategically placed near the body of each victim. The usual methods of profiling the killer are accelerated by advanced forensics, leaving Gunther and fellow detectives able to focus more specifically on the links between the victims.
A seasoned veteran of the VBI, Gunther enjoys the camaraderie of a crack group of detectives, not the least of which is the unlikely pairing of the acerbic Willy Kunkle and Samantha Martens. While his long relationship with Gail Zigman has ended, Joe is happily settling into a new one with Lyn Silva. The fact that Gail is running for governor adds some tension to Joe’s new partnership; ironically, Joe’s conflict with Zigman is exacerbated more for professional reasons that personal: “Bad news never echoed the simple, factual truth- it always carried extra meaning.” The connection between the former lovers is exploited by reporters and media hacks in search of the next big headline.
As the VBI follows traditional guidelines in profiling the killer with the welcome boost of sophisticated forensic advances, the novel is part police procedural - including the nurturing of good relations with other agencies as the VBI determines what role the agency may adopt in any new investigation - and part recognition of the simple lives people fashion for themselves. No matter what progress is achieved on the scientific frontier, the suffering of the victim’s families is impossible to ignore, Joe painfully aware of his limitations in that regard.
These particular murders are unlike anything Gunther has seen before. No obvious connections tie the victims to one another, save the blood. Each scenario seems to be staged in a subtle message for the VBI. The pressure from the top increases once the three murders are linked, although the demanding press has yet to appreciate the extent of the investigation. The drama plays out against the background of media interest, as Gail Zigman is questioned about the actions of her former boyfriend, the candidate accused of favoring special interests. Gunther guards his information in an effort to solve the crimes before another person is found dead; VBI detectives compile lists, creating a tenuous profile of the killer.
In the end, it is irrelevant whether these horrendous crimes are committed in the new millennium or in the Victorian era, at the heart of the murders the twisted mind of a killer informed enough to evade immediate detection but unable to thwart the scientific evidence that seals his fate. It all comes down to motive and execution, some murderers more bizarre than others, more challenging to identify. Greed, revenge, envy or rage, the seed of murder flourishes in the dark heart of the perpetrator, law enforcement helpless to intervene until the damage has been done, a bitter reality for Joe Gunther.