With just one year as a detective under her belt, NYPD cop Ellie Hatcher is both flattered and a little confused by her latest assignment. She'll be temporarily partnering with one of the city's more (in)famous homicide dicks - on a serial case, no less. Seems someone's been killing woman subscribers to New York-based FirstDate, a popular Internet dating service. Flann McIlroy, the perennial loose-cannon cop who caught the case, has specifically requested Hatcher's assignment. But is all the sudden attention because she's a darned good cop? Because she's only recently had her fifteen minutes of fame in the Big Apple's media storm? Or perhaps because her blonde good looks will get a ton of hits on a dating site? It may be all three – McIlroy's not telling.
As Hatcher and McIlroy – who's known to the squad room wags as "McIl-Mulder" for his publicity-seeking habits – delve deeper into the assignment; their investigation turns up yet another murder, along with a whiff of police corruption, potential involvement of the Russian Mafia, and a recurring theme of credit-card fraud. Meanwhile, Ellie's FirstDate account, originally intended as bait for the killer, not only turns up some potential suspects but also a potential soulmate or two. Such are the perils of online dating, eh? But all is not fun and games for Flann and Ellie, for a stone sociopath killer remains somewhere out there, both in the real world and on the 'Net. His lack of conscience is matched only by his technological skills: finding him will not be easy, nor will it be safe. It's especially dangerous for Ellie, who willingly adopts the role of sacrificial lamb to get this evil off the streets.
If the somewhat unusual name "Alafair" rings a bell for some readers; it's probably because the author's father, Edgar Award-winner James Lee Burke, has long given her name to the adopted daughter of his own protagonist, Cajun cop Dave Robicheaux. His daughter returns the favor in Dead Connection, down to giving Robicheaux a cameo role as a New Iberia cop with an "unpronounceable" last name – a little inside joke for inveterate mystery fans. Like father, like daughter, eh? Dead Connection is the younger Burke's fourth mystery novel, a standalone submission following her three legal thrillers featuring Deputy DA Samantha Kincaid.
Like father like daughter in other arenas, too – particularly when Burke's creating the character of Ellie Hatcher, a thirty-something Kansan who's following in the footsteps of her cop father in the city that never sleeps. She's a complex character with a bit of internal darkness (compare that to Robicheaux's wealth of internal darkness), not to mention having the ultimate slacker brother and a worry-wart mother. We like real people out here in the heartland, you know?
Burke displays smooth and elegant pacing in Dead Connection, guiding characters and readers alike through a tangled skein of multiple crimes in realistic fits and starts. She plots out the requisite intuitive leaps, the red herrings, the bonehead mistakes, and the bait-and-switch expected when the cops are up against a smart and soulless foe. The Coincidence Fairy makes nary a visit. Burke may slip up a bit in the plotting department with an overemphasis on Ellie's father's own serial case and McIlroy's propensity for cowboy escapades, but all in all Dead Connection is smoothly plotted and deliciously complex. The Burke family apple hasn't fallen far from the tree.