Die With Me
Elena Forbes
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Buy *Die With Me* by Elena Forbesonline

Die With Me
Elena Forbes
MacAdam/Cage Publishing
350 pages
September 2008
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Die With Me begins with a meeting in a neglected church where an older man meets a teenage girl and, in the cold and wintry light of the evening, promises to her that "we're in this together, just you and I." As she laps up his words about love and about death and opens a veritable floodgate of confession and neediness, the unidentified man can barely contain himself when this young girl finally becomes his.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Mark Tartaglia is set adrift after his boss and friend, Trevor Clark, is hospitalized after a terrible motorcycle accident. Stretched out in bed, in a coma, and obviously out of action for the foreseeable future, Trevor can do little to assuage Mark's insecurities at becoming the acting Senior Investigating Officer.

Before he can even stop to take a breath, Mark is called with his trusted colleague Sam Donovan, to the scene of a suspicious death. The victim is a fourteen-year-old girl by the name of Gemma Kramer who supposedly fell from the organ gallery inside St. Sebastian's church two days ago. At first, Ealing CID initially assumes it to be an accident or a suicide, as they don't find anything suspicious; after a pretty cursory forensic exam of the ground floor, the crime scene has been released.

But just after the church is cleaned up and re-opened for business, a witness materializes out of the woodwork saying she saw the girl going into the church with a man a couple of hours before her body was found, and they were clearly seen kissing outside. Upon closer examination, the whole incident seems to have been carefully prepared with lit candles and burning incense, the girl fallen to her death while the man disappeared.

Seeking answers, Mark turns to the local pathologist and his ex-girlfriend, Fiona Blake, who after running a full toxic analysis tells him that Gemma had traces of alcohol and GHB in her system, even although there appears to be no sexual motivation for the crime. Mark, however, is certain that Gemma's death was no accident, especially when Fiona tells him that a lock of the girl's hair was cut off and pulled out at the root, as though it had been sliced off right at the scalp.

Working diligently, Mark, Sam, and the rest of the team begin checking the Coroners' records for suicides of young women in London over the last couple of years, even though Donovan is sure there are no grounds so far to think Gemma's death was anything other than a one-off. Soon they uncover the records of two other girls who met a similar fate: Ellie Best and Laura Beneditti, both under twenty and both severely depressed, badly enough that Ellie Best was on anti-depressants.

A portrait soon develops of a terrifying new serial killer who is preying on the nave and the easily suggestible, vulnerable teenage girls who feel as though there is little hope and little to live for. The team also uncover the records of a woman who may have been an earlier victim of the killer: thirty-something Marion Spear, who came down from the North to work as an estate agent in Ealing and who reportedly fell to her death from the roof of a car park.

The way Marion died was so different to the other three - there was no suicide note, and the local CID investigation into Spear's death was cursory at best with the verdict again accidental death. Even though she only lived a few blocks away from where Gemma was killed, she just doesn't fit the victim profile. On the day she had died, she took a client to visit a flat; after that, nobody saw her again, and the flat was quite close to the car park where she fell.

Mark is positive that Marion's age and state of mind are important considerations in a case that is threatening to disrupt the cohesiveness of his unit. When DCI Carolyn Steele arrives to head up the case and replace Clark, much to Mark's annoyance, she turns to cocky forensic pathologist Patrick Kennedy for advice. Self-seeking and arrogant, unashamedly sure of himself, Kennedy is only too prepared to categorically dismiss Marion Speer's death as suicide.

While Mark is positive that Marion Spear could be an early victim, the clock is ticking. Unless Mark and Donavon can establish the connection between Laura, Ellie and Gemma, the killer will no doubt strike again. In this page-turner from the outset, Forbes' police investigators are compelling characters as she details their insecurities and flaws while they do battle with departmental politics, racing against time to catch the killer.

The cold light of day can be ruthless and unforgiving, and the author bathes her novel in an eerie brittle glow, the descriptions of rain-driven streets of London adding much to the suspenseful atmosphere. The suspects gradually line up, and everything points to bookshop owner Harry Angel, the man whom Marion Spear had been showing a flat and the last person known to have seen her alive, even though there is no apparent motive and nothing to link Angel to the crime scene.

As the story races towards its heart-stopping climax in this preternaturally harsh London winter, Mark, Sam, and Carolyn discover that the enemy, the murderer of these poor young women, is hiding just where they least expect. Forever lurking in the unlikeliest of places, ready to strike at the heart of their unit, he all the while lays waste a frightening and lurid scenario of horror, murder and death.

Click here for Michael Leonard's interview with Die With Me author Elena Forbes

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Michael Leonard, 2007

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