Recently I was sent Alafair Burke’s latest crime novel, All Day and a Night, to review. However, as it is one of a series with which I’m not familiar, I thought I would be well advised to read at least one of the earlier books to acquaint myself with the characters and the general background in which the stories are set.
Dead Connection is the first novel featuring NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, relatively recently appointed to the rank from street patrol and, much to her surprise, suddenly assigned to homicide only a year into her post. As we gradually discover, Ellie’s presence in homicide has been requested as much because of her past as because of her policing skills. Detective Flann McIlroy is convinced that he has a serial killer on his patch and serial killers feature large in Ellie’s family history. As a child, in Wichita, she watched her father, also a cop, drive himself relentlessly in his attempt to catch the College Hill Strangler. Convinced that the murderer was still at large despite the fact that the killings appeared to have stopped, Jerry Hatcher alone pursued the case and, when he was found dead in the driver’s seat of his car with a single bullet from his own revolver through the roof of his mouth, the verdict was suicide as a result of depression at his failure. The Hatcher family, and in particular Ellie, have never accepted this and her own attempts to have his death investigated as murder have made the press. Ellie Hatcher is a name that says serial killing. This makes her perfect for what McIlroy has in mind as he sets out to prove that three apparently unconnected killings are in fact the work of one man.
As Ellie soon discovers, the connections between the three women are tenuous at best. The first and second are linked through the weapon that killed them, the second and third through their membership of an internet dating site, First Date. However, because McIlroy is (in)famous for his unorthodox reliance on hunches that always seem to bear fruit, he is being allowed to work the case as if there was more evidence of serial involvement than there is and he and Ellie set out to investigate the men that Caroline and Amy, victims two and three, had both had contact with through the dating site.
Let me warn you now, that if you had ever thought about using one of these sites this novel will put you off the idea for the rest of your life. It isn’t so much that Ellie meets only one person (male or female) who hasn’t lied themselves blue in the face while creating their profile, but the possibilities that exist for fraud, both identity and financial, which will really make your hair stand on end. As Ellie and Flann dig ever deeper into the background of First Date it becomes apparent that the killer has motives that transcend the usual sexual deviation associated with serial offences.
I am not going to pretend that this is a novel of any great literary merit. However, it was well plotted and a darned good read. Burke knows how to create believable characters with whom the reader will empathise and, as a result, at one point I had a really good weep. I have to say that she does make use of some of the best known American crime tropes. I’m not sure how any villains are ever apprehended in the US given that their various forces of law and order always seem to be odds. Here it is the NYPD and the FBI who have to learn to work with, rather than against, each other and even when they do you’re fairly certain it is through the most gritted of teeth. Personally, I think the author’s work would be stronger if she avoided such stereotypes, but maybe they are so true to life that she needs to include them for verisimilitude.
All in all, I am glad to have made Ellie Hatcher’s acquaintance and I look forward now to meeting her again in her latest manifestation.