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Saturday, May 21, 2016


5 stars out of 5

Once in a while a book comes along so good that it's nearly impossible to describe without giving the impression that I must be one of the author's devoted relatives. This one is just that, and no, I'm not. In fact, when I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review, I'd never heard of the guy before. This is his debut novel, and from beginning to end, it absolutely blew my socks off.

For openers, I love the main character, Magnus "Steps" Craig. He's smart, funny, a few degrees off center and, because of his uncanny ability to follow trails and turn up clues no one else can, one of three experts on the FBI's Special Tracking Unit. But only he, his partner Special Agent Jimmy Donovan, his father, the head of the FBI and readers know of his very special talent: he's able to visualize what he calls "shine" - sort of like an aura - on everything other people touch. Shine comes in glowing colors and he sees it everywhere - to the point that he must wear special eyeglasses when he doesn't want to be tormented by his nonstop visions.

This time, the team is called in when the remains of a murdered woman are found; immediately, Steps sees the killer's shine and realizes it is the same as he saw at another unsolved murder a couple of years earlier and 200 miles away. He also discovers a mark that prompts investigators to dub the killer Sad Face - a discovery which, when other bodies turn up (all told, nearly a dozen in three states over five years) proves that a serial killer is at work. The main story line follows that investigation to the end (which of course I won't reveal).

At the same time, Steps is fighting other demons from his past; specifically, a killer he calls Leonardo, whom he began to track some 10 years ago. Now, Leonardo's shine turns up once again, weighing heavily on Steps's mind as he tries his best to focus on and solve the case at hand before another victim is unearthed.

The plot is intriguing and well thought out with plenty of action and, at times, gory detail; when I had to stop reading to do something else, I was annoyed that I couldn't put the world aside and keep going. But what I loved most is the awesome writing. Not everything centers on solving the murders; there are recollections of past events, details on the lives of other characters and a lot more - all laid out so interestingly that at no time did my usually impatient self say, "Hey, man, get on with the story." It is also intricate, eloquent, witty and insightful, to-wit:

"The reason a person picks up a book in the first place is a story unto itself. One person picks up Mein Kampf because he's an anti-Semite, another because he wants to learn the origin of monsters."

There's no question that this book, and this character, will stick with me for some time to come. The ending does hint of the likelihood that is the first of a series, and if that's the case, I say bring it on - the sooner the better. I can't wait to see this guy and his team in action again.

Now you'll have to excuse me while I go find my socks - my toes are chilled to the bone.

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope (Minotaur Books, June 2016); 320 pp.

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