Magnus ‘Steps’ Craig is no ordinary federal investigator. He’s a tracker par excellence, a man who can zero in on criminals with uncanny accuracy. And that’s because he brings a touch of the paranormal to the party; a sixth sense, an ability to see people’s auras and the ‘shine’ they leave behind. If that sounds faintly fanciful then never fear – author Spencer Kope anchors this modern American police procedural firmly in the real world.
Kope, who works in law enforcement, delivers convincing detail about policing practices and inter-agency co-operation, giving this serial killer investigation authentic heft. The partnership between Steps and his family-man partner Jimmy is deftly drawn. Steps himself is inevitably unbalanced by the impact of his hidden ability, occasionally overwhelmed by its impact, unable to operate without analgesia.
There are echoes of Will Graham (from Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, and more recently the stunning Hannibal TV series) about Steps, in the way that he sees and interprets a crime scene in exquisite, awful detail. Steps’ ‘gift’ is undoubtedly a burden and he rarely sleeps soundly, but Kope steers the atmosphere away from too much melancholic misery and the outright horror of Hannibal, back towards the nuts and bolts of witness statements, evidence collection, DNA and data analysis.
So ‘Collecting the Dead’ majors on the moment of truth when the CSI and backroom boys pull a stack of seemingly unconnected strands together. In fact, I was so impressed by the system of forensic vehicle identification which is used to track a car from poor CCTV footage that I blethered on about it to my ever-patient Bigger Half, and was then wildly entertained to find that this database not only exists – it was conceived of and created by the author…
Kope’s writing is fluid and natural. It vividly describes the world as Steps sees it, saturated with swirling psychedelic shades and tell-tale textures, unique to every individual. He also brings an unsettling sense of menace to the woodland wilderness, and neatly nails the jargon, banter and slang common to policing agencies the world over. You’ll find social commentary and wittily informed observation in every chapter. Why, for example, might the potential victim of a serial killer be less than happy when the FBI rock up on her doorstep? Check the mary-joanna in the attic, guys…
The flow does stumble in a couple of places, typically when Kope tries to lighten the tone. I wasn’t convinced that the comedy dog episode added anything to proceedings. Similarly, I wasn’t sure why the plot deviated midway to add some personal jeopardy to the mix – the narrative was belting along just fine, without a detour into ‘serial killer stalks detective’s family’ territory.
These glitches aside, this is a well written, carefully crafted detective story which introduces an intriguing protagonist. It would be easy to let a serial killer story with aspects of paranormal ability veer too far towards horror or fantasy. Instead Collecting The Dead delivers an entirely plausible plot, and a credible central character. I’m already looking forward to the next one.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Collecting The Dead by Spencer Kope is available in various formats (ebook currently way more expensive than paperback, which must make sense to someone. Not sure who)