Having quickly established himself as a master of the serial killer thriller, Chris Carter reunites Detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia of the LAPD Robbery Homicide Division in his new book I Am Death. With Hunter going solo in the last book, An Evil Mind, it’s nice to see this cerebral Batman and Robin back together in the midst of another dark and disturbing investigation…
The body of a young woman is found on a patch of grass by the Los Angeles International Airport, seven days after she disappeared. Her limbs have been stretched out and spread apart to create a five-point human star. A note written in her blood has been rammed down her throat. It’s addressed to Hunter and is ominously signed ‘I Am Death’.
As Hunter and Garcia’s taxing investigation begins, there are a series of heartbreaking and increasingly violent references to the abduction of a young, abused and lonely boy. He remains a captive and slave to an as yet unrevealed killer, who abducts and tortures young women, and metes out similar grisly forms of punishment on his abused house boy. Carter carefully balances the correlation between the two storylines, but keeps certain aspects of this strange relationship concealed from us, and by extension from Hunter and Garcia too. As Hunter once again taps into his innate perception and knowledge of the dark recesses of a serial killer’s mind, he and Garcia find themselves in a deadly game with a particularly egotistic and brutal killer.
The re-introduction of the Hunter-Garcia double act does disguise the slightly weaker plot line of Chris Carter’s novel. Through the interplay of Hunter and his loyal partner Garcia, which is probably Hunter’s most established relationship as he seems for the most part oblivious to his effect on women, there are perfectly pitched moments of camaraderie and humour which lighten the claustrophobic and disturbing nature of the case overall. With Garcia having undergone a real trial by fire in their last case together, One By One, he seems to have grown in stature and cynicism in I Am Death. It’s interesting to see the slight changes in his development.
Hunter remains pretty much the same despite his recent brushes with death, and it’s always good to see how he performs when a killer shines his own particular twisted attention on this dogged and intuitive detective. Drawing on Carter’s own background as a criminal psychologist who has himself encountered some truly dark psyches in the course of his work, there is always a really credible voice to the character of Hunter. By applying Hunter’s experience of Quantico profiling – named after the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit at Quanitco, Virginia – and his ability to get into a killer’s mindset, there is always a totally authentic feel to Carter’s lead detective.
Serial killer thrillers are some of the most popular crime books at the moment, and it’s one of my favourite sub-genres. Perhaps I Am Death’s plot doesn’t hold quite enough red herrings to keep you guessing, and it is fairly easy to pick out a not-so-well concealed clue as to the killer’s identity. There is the usual dose of sphincter-clenching violence and visceral detail that Carter is known for. The cruel and unusual punishments the killer dishes out are darkly entertaining. So any perceived weakness in the plotting are more or less covered.
Like JA Kerley and Richard Montanari with their long running series, the pressure must be on to consistently produce disturbing and yet viable plots. In common with aforementioned, the strong and consistent characterisation in Carter’s central police protagonists more than helps the story along to its violent and chilling conclusion. Not my favourite of the series to date, but a more than worthy summer holiday read.
For 10 great serial killer series, click here. I Am Death is on sale from 30 July.
Simon & Schuster
CFL Rating: 4 Stars