Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Dark Mind

A Dark Mind
by T. R. Ragan
Recommended Ages: 14+

From the standpoint of "things Harry Potter fans would love to read" one may question why I would post a review of this book, since serial killer fiction is a whole huge area of the book world that has very little overlap with schools of magic. I could take the cute route and point out, for example, that Voldemort is a type of serial killer, and that as an auror who carries a lifelong scar from a childhood encounter with the dark lord, Harry Potter has something in common with Lizzy Gardner, a private investigator who as a teenager survived being abducted by a serial killer. But to be honest, the reason I'm reviewing this book is that I review almost everything I read. As it happens I started listening to Kate Rudd reading this book on CD during a long road trip when I couldn't find anything else suitable on the audio fiction rack at a truck stop. It's the sort of thing that can happen even to a book nut who prefers magical fantasy. If it happened to me, it could happen to you.

Sacramento, California seems to be a popular hunting ground for serial killers. It was there that Lizzy escaped from, and eventually destroyed, the monster known as Spiderman. In previous books in this series she must have taken down a few other psychos, because already by this installment in the Lizzy Gardner series she has two very different assistants whom she took under her wing after traumatic experiences. One is Jessica, a tight-laced young lady who wants to be an FBI profiler someday. The other is Haley, a street-smart kid who has to wear a monitoring device since she castrated the man who abused her and her mother. Together with her boyfriend, FBI Agent Jared Shayne, Lizzy is trying to keep Haley out of trouble - but soomehow, trouble comes to them.

For example, Lizzy assigns Jessica a seemingly easy case, helping a client who has been unlucky in love find out whether her fiance is to be trusted. Jessica's target, a building contractor working on a new subdivision, turns out to be up to his neck in something nasty that may include burying bags of body parts under a concrete slab. As the apprentice sleuth tries to prove her mettle, she gets dangerously close to a bad-boy subcontractor who gets orders to shut her up by whatever means necessary.

Then there's the case of a politician's wife who gave up a child for adoption when she was an unmarried teen. Now she wants to make contact with the girl before her husband starts a big campaign, but the adoptive parents say she has gone missing. Finding her leads Lizzy's team into a dark corner of Sacramento area culture and an ethical dilemma.

But ironically, it is a routine workman's comp case that leads Lizzy into the most danger. One of several similar cases, it involves checking into an employee who claims he was injured on the job, while his bosses, a married couple of realtors, think he may be scamming them. The ink is still wet on their contract when the case leads Lizzy across the trail of a serial murderer dubbed the Lovebird Killer because he targets couples who are deeply in love. When one of her clients is arrested for killing his wife, Lizzy has a feeling he's innocent - and she soon begins to suspect the Lovebird Killer may be involved. As she continues looking into their former employee, the case grows even weirder.

Strange things start happening at her home and office that suggest she has caught the attention of yet another sociopath, one who thinks of targeting the woman who stopped Spiderman as a special challenge. The name of the realtors' ex-employee proves to belong to another man entirely, a man who has been seeking justice for the murder of his sister for more than five years. Meanwhile the killer knows where Lizzy lives and works. While he appears and disappears as if by magic to menace Lizzy, those closest to her, and other innocent people, she races to solve a series of crimes that has baffled the police and the FBI until now. And since he can apparently go anywhere he wants without getting caught, it's only a matter of time until the Lovebird Killer completes a masterpiece of evil that will destroy Lizzy's life.

This is the third Lizzy Gardner thriller by T. R. Ragan, starting with Abducted. The sixth and latest installment, Evil Never Dies came out in August 2015. T. R. Ragan is a pseudonym used by Theresa Ragan, who under her own name has published nine novels combining romance with either fantasy, comedy or suspense. Their titles include A Knight in Central Park, Taming Mad Max and Dead Man Running.

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