Talty’s addictive thriller begins with the escape of infamous murderer Marcus Flynn—aka Hangman—whose killing spree in North Buffalo, New York, left four teen girls dead; the body of his last victim was never found. Disappearing during his transfer from one prison to another, Flynn has managed to evade a massive manhunt, and signs point to a return to his old killing ground.
Regardless of the policemen blanketing the escape area, there is no sign of the elusive fugitive. Detective Abby (Absalom) Kearney is brought in as Plan B, assigned to insert herself into the mindset of the killer and track him down. Before long, a teenage girl is found hanging from the tree in her backyard, his latest victim a sign to the authorities that Hangman is heading back to familiar territory. The pressure builds for Kearney, furiously foraging through the earlier case histories to discover any connection she can find to explain Flynn’s motivation, even though the prisoner suffered severe damage from a gunshot to his head prior to his capture. She interviews the father of the girl whose body was never found and even Flynn’s prison psychiatrist, who suggests the prisoner was starting to remember flashes of his crimes before the transfer and escape.
Talty ratchets up the tension on two levels, beginning with the pressure Kearney feels to turn to the dark side, to use informants in the tightly knit Irish community—“the Murphia” or “the Network.” Abby contacts ex-cop Charlie McGonagle, who offers his assistance and his contacts. Abby finds McGonagle in a local County pub: “The County didn’t have retirement homes for cops, it had bars.” In a parallel tightening of the screws, chapters from Hangman’s perspective reveal his thirst for another kill, his need to enact the particular ritual of each scene and his crafty evasion of law enforcement at every turn, plucking his latest unsuspecting victim from the midst of a public police presence.
While Kearney battles her moral demons in deciding which direction to take with the case, her sense of urgency is a compelling reason to accept McGonagle’s help, a dilemma that adds an ethical dimension that is often lacking in mystery novels, where the lines are drawn clearly between good and evil. But time is running out as Kearney alternates between her desire to capture Hangman to study his motivation and the realization that she’d be fine with killing him. As the daughter of a revered detective with a reputation she hopes to honor in her own career, her final decision is critical. Whichever she chooses, Kearney will have to suffer the consequences, yet another layer in the texture of this story. A child who was raised in the County, Abby is conversant with the cultural burdens of the Irish: “If they knew anything, the Irish knew grief.”
Talty judiciously alternates chapters from the chase to the killer’s insidious scheme for his next murder while Kearney moves closer to the critical bits of information she needs to set her sights on Hangman. The murderer draws deeper into his lair, positioning himself for his coup de grace, a devilish twist that turns every imagined scenario upside-down. Darkly atmospheric and rife with the fears, personal conflicts and secrets of the principle characters, Talty’s thriller perfectly balances predator and prey, the motives of a ritual-driven serial killer and the teenage girls lured into a deadly nightmare. The complex, driven Detective Absalom Kearney is a woman caught between her idealism and the realization that sometimes there are no easy choices when staring into the face of human depravity.