A killer is on the loose with a puzzling and challenging modus operandi that makes a mockery of lead detective Lucia Vieira in this skillfully sketched, captivating mystery.
Set in the present day in an unnamed town, the story takes an icy plunge into details of the first murder from the outset. A 73-year-old, well-liked widow is found shot outside her home with no witnesses to the crime. The only evidence left behind is a blank brass key and a crazy note: “Drealorless grue coms retuously impest.”
Lucia plumbs her knowledge of linguist Noam Chomsky’s ideas to unravel this clue with the help of her apprentice partner, Mike Rafferty. Then, as the murders pile up, the investigators continually untangle ever-more-confusing teases in notes drawn from portmanteau rhetoric, riddles and mocking emails. They must consider Jabberwocky, chaos theory, geometry, and more in an effort to nab this creative, yet sinister perpetrator who they dub “X-man.”
The author of this engaging and original novel is clearly well-versed in language, culture, literature, math and physics, as evidenced by intricate and engrossing details in abundance throughout the book, daring readers to solve the riddles as well. Characters are sharply drawn and the writing fluid and descriptive. Here is Mike describing psychopaths: “They read the lines, but they don’t feel the lyrics. They know the tune, but they don’t swing with the rhythm. They use and abuse language and, in the process, become masters of subterfuge.”
Aside from very minor editing needs, the only quibble is that the book’s setting is unclear, never giving readers a chance to place the people and crimes in a locale to which they may relate.
That said, this intriguing, intelligent mystery, written by a retired Purdue University professor, is a joy that will thrill all who enjoy both mysteries and challenges.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.