Written by James Carol — The third in James Carol’s serial killer series follows the very successful Broken Dolls and Watch Me, and features ex-FBI psychological profiler Jefferson Winter. The hook of the series is that Winter himself is the son of a convicted serial killer, and he’s in a constant battle to dampen the killer instinct in his own character handed down via his father’s genes. Hence, the age old conundrum of nature versus nurture fuels much of the tension as he investigates his cases.
In Prey, Winter is approached in the early hours of the morning – yes, he’s an insomniac as well – in his local diner by a strange woman who seems to know everything about him. After casually slaying the hapless cook in said diner, she departs leaving Winter in possession of an old newspaper report about the murder of a young couple in a small town some years previously. The case seemed cut and dried, and the perpetrator was found and punished. Winter’s natural curiosity is aroused, and he enlists the help of feisty NYPD police detective, Carla Mendoza. They set off to review the original murders, and to track down this murderous woman who has her sights set on Winter.
Even if you haven’t read the previous books, it’s easy to get a handle on the relationship between Winter and Mendoza, with the effects of their previous investigation looming large in Prey as well. Carol weaves in the backstory well. With Winter’s naval gazing about his own psychological make-up and innate ability to predict and pre-empt the actions of the killer they pursue, he is an interesting enough character. However, when compared to the lead characters in other serial killer books – such as those in the books of Chris Carter or Jack Kerley – I found him a trifle dull in comparison.
Although there can be no question that Carol has done his homework on the psychopathy of killers and how this reveals itself in their particular killing methods and motivation, there is the slight feeling that you’ve read it all before. Winter’s brand of cleverness becomes tiresome quite quickly as his character isn’t balanced enough with the necessary traits to arouse interest or empathy. Admittedly, his female counterpart, Mendoza, adds a certain energy to the pace and plot, and her more cynical attitude and sense of derring-do when needed lifts Prey from the morass of familiarity. It’s enjoyable to see Winter and Mendoza grow irritating to the somewhat slack members of the local law enforcement office in upstate New York. This lightens the atmosphere, although the other police characters aren’t all that original.
In terms of plot, again we have that feeling of ennui, and the more far fetched behaviour of the murderous female protagonist does extend disbelief to the nth degree. It all seems a little contrived, and to be honest I cared not a whit as to the why, when and how her behaviour had morphed into that of a psychopath, drawing on the tired tropes of childhood abuse etc. It all felt a little too familiar, and I read this book with an ever increasing need to be surprised and shocked that just wasn’t fulfilled. However, seeing the glowing reviews for the previous two books, maybe I have come in to the series at the wrong point, and would have enjoyed Broken Dolls or Watch Me more.
Faber & Faber
CFL Rating: 2 Stars