When I saw the title of this book listed as #43 on NPR’s List of Top Ten Thrillers of All Time (picked by the NPR audience), I was skeptical. I didn’t like Dekker’s Boneman’s Daughters very much. But I was curious too, and since it happened to be in my TBR pile, I read it.
To my pleasant surprise, this really is a good representative of the serial killer genre [I know that “good” and “serial killer genre” will seem oxymoronic to some.] It sticks pretty closely to the standard serial killer template, but Dekker adds two interesting plot threads that elevate the level of the book. One is the theme of mental illness, and how defining someone as “mentally ill” separates and stigmatizes people in a way that may not be justified. The lines of demarcation on the continuum between mental illness and mental health are not always clear, and Dekker takes pains to educate us on this as his characters grapple with the issue.
A second, related plot thread concerns self-worth, and the shame and self-loathing that can paradoxically result from childhood abuse. Dekker’s main characters in this book are all notably physically attractive on the outside, and yet all feel ugly on the inside. They are in a constant battle with themselves to feel worthy. Dekker makes no comment about the societal pressure to be beautiful, and I think that’s not in fact the issue here. Rather, beauty for the characters is defined almost exclusively as inner worthiness. It’s more of a Dorian Gray type beauty. None of them can love others until they learn to forgive and love themselves, but it’s an extremely difficult process.
FBI Special Agent Brad Raines, only 32, but somewhat of a star, is heading a hunt in the Denver field office for a serial killer his team calls The Bride Collector. The killer abducts beautiful women, and kills them by draining the blood from their heels. He then glues each body to the wall and covers the face with a wedding veil.
Not only are the victims beautiful. Brad Raines is a “dead ringer” for a blond-headed George Clooney. Brad’s partner Nikki Holden is gorgeous. It turns out that even the killer (whom we meet very early on) is good-looking.
This killer, named Quinton Gauld, is in the process of selecting and killing seven brides for God, as he informs the FBI in a note he leaves. With the frequency of his killings, Brad knows he is racing against time to find and stop The Bride Collector. Grasping at straws, his team guesses from the killer’s latest note that he is somehow associated with a psychiatric facility called The Center for Wellness and Intelligence. The Director, Allison Johnson, suggests to Brad and Nikki that they question her most brilliant patients about the possibility that the killer was a resident. And so they meet Roudy, Paradise, and Andrea. The threesome’s abilities are a revelation to Brad, who is astounded by what they discover.
Evaluation: This is definitely a page turner, particularly after the FBI connects with the Center for Wellness and Intelligence. Normally I am offended when every character in a book is good looking, but in this case, there is a method to the author’s madness, and it is ironic rather than iconic. If you don’t mind creepy serial killer books, this is a good read!
Published by Center Street, 2010