There’s a serial killer at work, whose weird signature involves severed feet, delivered in iceboxes to defence lawyers. It’s a job for one of the FBI’s special units – a very special unit, one which comes with an extra-sensory twist. Steps, the lead character, is a tracker. But he doesn’t use forensics or personality profiling – instead he has a paranormal ability to see the unique aura which surrounds every person. And which every person leaves in their wake… creating a long-term ‘shine’ which Steps can see, sometimes even years later.
This is the second book in the series, but you don’t need to have read the first to enjoy this one. I felt it flowed more easily than the earlier episode, and the author spent less time fussing about Steps’ extra ability – so his strange second-sight blended better into the storyline. The first book was more about the investigator himself: this one stands on the merits of the story, and it’s a solidly crafted investigation into a serial killer… one which raises plenty of questions about the morality of western legal systems, and of personal responsibility.
There is an intellectual puzzle here to be solved, and it’s a high-stakes investigation as Steps soon realises that the killer is ramping up his activities. So together with his partner and their back-up team, Steps must understand the killer’s motivation and predict where the shine might lead them. It’s a nifty mix of procedural and road trip, as they zigzag between crime sites across the southern States. And it’s made all the more entertaining by the combination of a paranormal ability with practical policing: Steps might know which feet belong to which victim, and whether the suspect has slept in a certain bed, all from the traces of shine he picks up. But that can’t be revealed to the world at large (or even some of his team, or his girlfriend), so there’s multiple layers of subtle subterfuge involved in bringing what Steps knows – but can’t prove — into the chain of evidence.
Throw in the usual cast of medical examiners, research team, hi-tech forensics and digital tracking, add a smattering of witness interviews and cold-case reviews, and you get a truly entertaining manhunt. It’s on the safe side of gruesome and not particularly explicit; tight with technical detail and agency acronyms; possibly a little long on buddy-buddy conversations during the investigation team’s travel time. The air-crew, for example, feel as if they’re just hanging around to lighten the mood, while Steps’ lodger and brother were entirely surplus to requirement this time around. But the notion of Steps sending paper letters to his girlfriend by old-fashioned post is a nice commentary on the transient nature of modern communication.
Mostly, the story lopes along without bogging down and Spencer Kope has an unfussy style of writing which doesn’t clutter the narrative unnecessarily. This episode definitely feels more confident and polished than the first, and the author is able to bring some real gravitas to a complex situation. This isn’t simply a manhunt for a serial killer, which pitches law enforcers against someone entirely evil, but a story with a more complex moral conundrum at its core.
I enjoyed it more than I did the first book in the series – and am looking forward to the third. At some point, surely Steps is going to have to justify his teams’ astonishing expense account to someone in the FBI’s hierarchy…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Whispers Of The Dead by Spencer Kope is available as an ebook or hardback
(But once again we have to say… TEN POUNDS? FOR AN EBOOK? C’mon, publishers, be sensible)