This sloppy mystery mixes murder, secrets, exploitation and coincidence, going over the top to obfuscate a too-clever twist that actually fails miserably to deliver the goods. The opening scene: a “green” forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Claire Waters (clear waters?), loses control of an interview with a soon-to-be-paroled sex offender, her unprofessional behavior sure to offend anyone with even a modicum of knowledge regarding psychotherapy or clinical standards. Continuing her unprofessional antagonistic approach, Waters provokes a client at risk, unleashing a putative serial killer on an unsuspecting New York City.
Then the quack-ish Dr. Waters is welcomed into an active police investigation into a murder (even though she has also been identified as the killer’s potential prey) as a series of gruesome murder scenes litter the landscape of the understandably terrified city. Detective Nick Lawler, with his own troubled history and a career deadline on the horizon, scrambles to make sense of the escalating murders and protect Dr. Waters, who graciously assumes the role of amateur sleuth in her excessive zeal to save the city from the serial killer (and to assuage her own guilt for botching his interview while the killer was still incarcerated).
The random details pile up faster than an infamous NYC garbage strike, a mountain of debris generated by lies, confused identities, a surplus of dead bodies, the serial killer frantic and unstoppable—until a dramatic scene where he drives at excessive speed going the wrong way on a busy city bridge. Suddenly the focus segues to an anomaly in the victims’ profiles, one detail too many to be woven into a plot rife with coincidental (but important!) events including a childhood abduction, a child molester, the unearthing of a body, and yet another misdirection toward a final solution to the whole confusing mess.
And there in the middle of it all is Dr. Claire (oh, clear waters!), the impulsive and undisciplined psychologist with a heart of gold and a head of helium, who balances precariously between abject fear and outrage, one foot in a sneaker, the other in a Christian Louboutin pump. The tale is truly Machiavellian save for its absurd plot and the shallowness of the characters, the convenient murders, and the “profound” insights of the doctor, the Nancy Drew of the famed NYPD.
While Baer and Green have solid reputations—award-winning, event—this thriller is such a hodgepodge of extremes that it loses all credibility. Perhaps the most insulting element is the ridiculous female protagonist, an incipient super-sleuth who eventually proves her worth by intuiting the identity of the mastermind, thereby relieving the guilt she has carried in her heart since childhood. Riker’s Island gets a bad rap, psychiatry gets a bad rap, law enforcement, etc. in this hyper blend of murder, sensationalism, quasi-science and transparent manipulation. Save your money—or wait for the TV version, the authors’ “real” forte.