“Gone for Good” by Joanna Schaffhausen (Minotaur)
When Grace Harper is found hogtied and strangled to death on her kitchen floor, it appears that Chicago’s “Lovelorn Killer” has returned after being dormant for nearly twenty years.
Chicago PD Detective Annalisa Vega had been obsessed with the
the case ever since her high school boyfriend’s mother was murdered in a similar fashion. Now, in “Gone for Good,” it’s on Vega to end the reign of terror — unless the killer hunts her down first.
The novel is the first in a planned series about Vega by Joanna Schaffhausen, author of four previous thrillers featuring Boston PD detective Ellery Hathaway. At first blush, Hathaway’s personal experience with serial killers was even worse than Vega’s. As a teenager, Hathaway and been held prisoner and tortured by one.
A serial killer suddenly reappearing after being dormant for decades is an overused trope of both crime novels and TV cop shows. So is having the detective on the case targeted by the killer. In other words, Schaffhausen’s new book starts off with two strikes against it. When the book’s climactic confrontation takes place in an abandoned mental hospital — something else we’ve seen too many times before — that seems like strike three.
And yet, there is a lot to like about this novel.
Harper, the latest victim, was a member of The Gravediggers, a group of amateur sleuths obsessed with cold cases. Her notes on her investigation of “The Lovelorn Killer,” interspersed with the main narrative, are an artful touch.
Schaffhausen builds the suspense chapter by chapter, and the tale’s clever twists will keep readers guessing, often wrongly, till the end.
Her prose style, which has always been precise and clear, has taken a leap in this book, turning both grittier and, occasionally more lyrical. And, as usual, she excels at character development — even with minor characters.
In the Ellery Hathaway books, the author subtly portrayed the main character’s complex relationship with an FBI agent who had rescued her when she was a girl. The painful push and pull of their on-again, off-again romance was every bit as compelling as the cases they investigated.
Now, in “Gone for Good,” the portrayal of Vega’s relationships with her parents, her siblings, and her fellow-detective former husband, as well as the sudden reappearance of the boyfriend she’d loved in high school, give the story a human touch often absent in novels marketed as thrillers.
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”
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