Written by Elizabeth Heiter — Evelyn Baine is a top profiler with the FBI. Her speciality is human behaviour, but her own personal story informs everything she does. She is of mixed race, and after a childhood where she was rescued from a drunken mother and her abusive boyfriend, then fostered out to a family in a small South Carolina town where non-white faces were notable by their absence, she has something of an agenda. We learn that her best friend in Rose Bay – Cassie – was abducted by someone who came to be known as The Nursery Rhyme Killer, but her body has never been found.
When another little girl is abducted, decades later, with an apparently similar MO, every rule of the FBI handbook seems to suggest that Evelyn is not the person to turn to. Nonetheless, she insists that she should be involved, and returns to Rose Bay and becomes immersed in her own childhood trauma as well as what could be a very contemporary tragedy. There are even officers on the enquiry who interviewed Evelyn when she was a material witness, all those years ago, and this both heightens her unease and fuels her determination to finally come up with some answers.
There is no shortage of suspects. Could it be the convicted sex offender who has a secret photo stash of schoolgirls? How about the man who may have been responsible for the death of his partner’s daughter? Or could it even be someone close to the investigation, using their special knowledge to keep one step ahead of the police?
When Evelyn seems to be getting close to tracking down the killer, someone takes a pot-shot at her as she sits in her car. She has already incurred the wrath of her section head and the local police after illegally entering the property of someone who she is convinced is linked to the case, so she knows she is within a whisker of being pulled off the investigation before she can bring closure to the traumatic events of 18 years earlier.
The book rattles along at a decent pace, and is particularly gripping when the officers are actually out and about investigating leads and interrogating suspects. Where the narrative sags is when we are drawn into Evelyn’s own personal world, and in particular her romantic involvement with one of her fellow officers. I actually wanted to shake some sense into her, and tell her to to get a grip, rather than swooning with passion in her admirer’s manly embrace. I was never quite sure what to make of Evelyn. We have page after page of her thought processes, and she is clearly no fool. Her obsession with finding out what actually happened to Cassie is understandable, but I couldn’t work out whether Evelyn was a steely-eyed FBI tough-cookie, or a vulnerable young woman too prone to emotional involvement to be much good as a federal agent.
Heiter does an excellent job with providing a good range of potential suspects, so the story works well as a whodunnit, although there is a fairly major reveal just over half way through which should point you in the direction of the guilty party. The climax is as exciting and dramatic as anyone could wish for, and the motivation behind the Nursery Rhyme crimes is both chilling and psychologically plausible.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars