Review: Unsub

Growing up, Caitlin Hendrix watched a killer's career destroy her father, Mack, a homicide detective with the Alameda, Calif., sheriff's department, in charge of the Prophet serial murder case. The Prophet consumed Mack's existence, costing him his marriage, his home, his sanity.

As Mack slowly lost himself, the Prophet claimed seemingly unrelated victims in a variety of horrific manners: suffocation, drowning in a water-treatment pond, being burned alive in a mausoleum. The common denominator was that he marked his victims with the sign for Mercury. The Prophet was also poetic, leaving messages at crime scenes, sending the missives to news outlets and taunting Mack directly with his mysterious words. When Mack and his partner, Saunders, caught the Prophet in a misstep, they were almost able to apprehend him. Instead, the murderer shot and killed Saunders, then escaped. After that, the murders stopped, and there was no sign of the Prophet.

Twenty years later, Caitlin Hendrix is making a name for herself in the narcotics division of the Alameda Sheriff's Department when the notorious serial killer strikes again. Homicide Sergeant Joe Guthrie summons Caitlin to the grotesque scene where a woman lies dead, strangled with a bullwhip and the Mercury symbol formed with nails protruding from her chest. Joe wants Caitlin on the investigation team because she's the only one with ties to her unstable father, now living in a boarding house and working as a day laborer. Regardless of Mack's questionable mental state, Joe knows he has valuable information about their unsub--unknown subject--locked inside him from long ago, and Caitlin's the one most likely to possess the key to that lock. What Joe doesn't realize is that Caitlin has more to offer the team than her familial connection to Mack Hendrix. She's a smart, driven woman, determined to serve and protect, as well as exact revenge for her father. But as the Prophet reels Caitlin in in the same way he did her father, her fate may turn out far worse.

In this break from her Jo Beckett and Evan Delaney series, Meg Gardiner (The Shadow Tracer) draws inspiration from the unsolved case of the Zodiac Killer that haunted northern California in the late 1960s. Using cryptic messages and complex murder scenarios, Gardiner crafts a villain who will haunt readers with his callousness and heartlessness. But her hero has brains, gumption and a high tolerance for pain. Gardiner keeps the suspense at peak levels throughout the novel, conjuring creepy, atmospheric music in the minds of her audience, who will be anxiously perched on the edges of their seats anticipating every next horror. Those who worship at the altar of the thriller shall rejoice. The Prophet has arrived. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Shelf Talker: A young detective tracks the heinous serial killer who systematically destroyed her father's life 20 years earlier.

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