The Stolen Ones by Richard Montanari (Mulholland, Feb. 25th, 2013)-When The Stolen Ones opens, Jessica Balzano is in law school and eventually plans to leave the force, but she still works in the Special Investigations Unit in homicide. She catches a case that involves a businessman, Robert Freitag, who was found in Priory Park in early 2013 with a railroad spike through the head. His apartment has been sealed until now, and of course Jessica jumps at the chance to gather more evidence. The only problem is, the evidence they do have (which is minimal and at times, nonsensical) was put together by the detective working the case at the time, John Garcia, who suffered from a brain tumor that eventually killed him. She and her partner, Kevin Byrne, first visit the original crime scene, then head to Freitag’s apartment, where they uncover a few things that might have a chance of leading them to his killer. Meanwhile, a man named Luther roams Philadelphia’s underground, and his ties to a killer named Eduard Kross is leading him to his next victims. When more bodies start to appear in Priory Park, the case ramps up very, very fast. If things weren’t already strange enough, a mute little girl is found in the middle of the road with ties to a past case, and a retired detective is pulled back into a nightmare that he never escaped from.
This is my first experience with Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano of the Philadelphia Police Dept., and it certainly won’t be my last. In fact, I plan to catch up the first six as soon as I can! Most of the narrative follows Balzano and Byrne as they pick apart the puzzle that is Luther, but we also get glimpses into Luther’s past at Cold River, where he was born into very tragic circumstances, and of the diabolical dream studies and experiments that were conducted there. The making of a killer is a fascinating thing, and Montanari tackles the subject, and his detectives’ race against the clock to catch him, like the seasoned pro that he is. I like the fact that Balzano is a smart, busy wife and mother who is trying to get her law degree in addition to her day job, and she does it with dedication and humor (and more than a little exhaustion.) Byrne is quiet and methodical and the two form a great partnership, one of absolute trust and loyalty. As a newcomer to the series, I never felt that I was missing anything I needed in order to fully enjoy the story, so it can definitely stand on its own. If you enjoy creepy thrillers that move at a blistering pace and have more than their share of the macabre, THE STOLEN ONES should be on your must read list. Also, the ending gave me chills-can’t wait for the next one!