A killer on a mission begins his rampage as the year 2012 draws to a close in Germany,
just as Chief Detective Investigator Pia Kirchhoff is about to leave on her honeymoon with new husband, Christoph Sander, current director of the Opel Zoo. Back at his desk with a renewed sense of purpose, Pia’s boss, Oliver von Bodenstein, has barely escaped career destruction after a tough case and messy personal life, his downward spiral reversed by Kirchhoff’s actions on his behalf. Requesting her assistance--temporarily--at a new murder scene, neither Bodenstein nor Pia anticipate that this killing is only the opening volley of a case with tentacle reaching into the past, revenge deliberately parceled out by a man who continually eludes police detection.
Lying in wait, the killer shoots his first victim from a distance. An elderly woman, Ingeborg Rohleder, is walking her dog along a familiar route, as she does every day. Police arrive to find a crumpled body, stark against a snowy background, her pink knitted cap and scarf the only spots of color on a desolate landscape. Shortly thereafter, a second woman is felled, Margarethe Rudolf making Christmas cookies in her kitchen with twelve-year-old granddaughter, Greta. Viewing that scene, Pia feels herself conflicted between her impending honeymoon trip and the need to assist with the new case, most certainly the work of an organized perpetrator. (Predictably, duty will prevail for a detective so devoted to her work, now married to a man who understands her commitment.)
Body after body, more innocents are killed, authorities searching for links between them that point to a common denominator. Kirchhoff cannot help but remember a recent case that was equally difficult, that answer buried in the past. While her team attacks a mountain of facts about victims’ families and careers, Pia keeps the lessons of that other case in mind as a diverse group of people present what seems an insurmountable set of problems.
Like in her other popular thrillers, Neuhaus writes with deliberation, capturing the frustrations of pursuing such an organized murderer and the hours of tedious research to find a significant clue and break open the investigation. Familiar characters return, some in a new context, others sliding comfortably into former roles, most made more emotionally accessible through details of their private struggles and career conflicts. Articulating the lives of the victims’ families adds both humanity and historical context to a case begun in the twisted mind of a man bent on revenge, wily enough to cover his tracks, his mission deadly successful, the man known as “the Judge” identified: “The living would receive their punishment and the dead would get justice. All of them.”
While the means of death is unusual--a sniper wielding a rifle--the reasoning is predictably human: a fanatical desire to speak for one who is voiceless. And as the tangled web slowly unravels, times, places and face become clear, even when plagued by a pompous profiler who tailors facts to fit his perspective. Neuhaus lifts the police procedural from the mundane gathering of information to the eventual solution, the investigation on a slow boil that builds up steam as public pressure demand results, boiling over as the pieces finally fit together, the prey in sight. Kirchhoff and Bodenstein don’t disappoint, proving once again a solid pairing in a well-plotted thriller.