Written by Brian Freeman — In a rickety frame house, at the end of a track, hidden deep in the Minnesota woods, a six-year-old cowers under the porch. Above her, behind her, all around her, she can hear the screams of a woman being butchered. Her mother. A decade later the girl is turning tricks for paunchy businessmen at a lakeside party venue. But there is something far worse in her life. Someone is trying to kill her. She flees the party, survives a jump into the icy waters of the canal, and makes for the house of the only man she can trust to help her – Duluth cop, Jonathan Stride.
He was first to the scene that night. First to find the ravaged body of Michaela Mateo. First to find her partner Marty Gamble, propped up against the wall, having turned a gun on himself after cutting Michaela to pieces. And now Stride has their daughter Cat, wrapped in a blanket, sitting in his house. Cat is only 16, but she has been living off her body, and Stride’s police partner Maggie Bei is incredulous that he wants to keep a teenage hooker in his house. Her concern is doubled by the discovery that Cat likes to keep a knife about her at all times, and complicated by the fact that after years of working together, Maggie and Stride have just ended a brief but torrid affair.
A woman who is asked to babysit Cat while Stride and Maggie try to track down the mysterious stalker, is attacked and killed. A female journalist who was trying to put together a story connecting a teenage prostitution ring with a wealthy car dealer and state politician is also missing, and as Stride struggles to make connections, he is forced to enlist the help of his ex-lover, Serena, who is working for a neighbouring police department. In the back of his mind, Stride is sure that the whole case hinges on what happened at Michaela Mateo’s house a decade ago. He grows more convinced that the brutal events of that night were not what they seemed then, and he is equally sure that only one person can provide the key to unlocking the mystery – Cat.
When you read a Jonathan Stride novel, you wear a woollen hat, an outdoor coat and fingerless gloves. For capturing the sheer brutality of a particular climate, Freeman is without peer. The ice crackles under foot, the wind whips up freezing spray from the great lake Superior, and tyres spin on the latest powdering of snow on the Duluth freeways.
The sexual chemistry between Stride and the women in the story is subtly but powerfully described. When the actual killer is unmasked, it comes as a genuine shock, but is all the more convincing because of the entirely plausible web of cause and effect which bind together the others responsible. The finale is genuinely scary, and because Freeman has made us care about the characters so much, we are sucked into the terror. In the end, after the cutting, and shooting, and heartbreak, there is peace, some degree of resolution and, most importantly, new life. The past throws a long dark shadow over present fortunes, and it is only with considerable help from his friends that Stride can put right old wrongs.
This is a touching, violent and frightening novel, with a sparky undercurrent of eroticism. Previous admirers of Freeman’s work will love it, while new readers will waste no time in tracking down previous episodes in the life of his awkward, damaged but resolute policeman.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars