Book review: The Stolen Ones by Richard Montanari
If you haven’t yet latched on to Richard Montanari’s fast-paced, atmospheric crime thrillers then get ready to be bowled over… and seriously scared.
Complex, compelling plots, electrifying psychological drama and a terrific sense of time and place have become the trusty tools of an American writer who started out as a freelance journalist but found his true vocation as a top-notch crime novelist.
The Stolen Ones sees the return of dynamic detective duo Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano, two fallible but captivating Philadelphia homicide cops whose patch is unrelentingly dark and who regularly witness the broken lives and grim residue of big city violence.
On their seventh outing into murder and mayhem, the police department’s ‘odd couple’ are on the trail of a terrifying serial killer called Luther, the twisted product of a former mental hospital where a rogue sleep therapist implanted patients with the memories of a notorious killer.
Philadelphia State Hospital, known as a warehouse for the criminally insane, was destroyed by fire several decades ago but one of its most dangerous patients never left.
Luther Wade was ‘programmed’ in his sleep by Dr Godehard Kirsch, a ‘dream merchant’ psychiatrist who carried out illicit and macabre experiments on inmates.
Now Luther, a raggedy, shambling figure, walks Philadelphia’s back streets by day, and at night he roams the city’s catacombs, a sealed-off network of secret passages.
Luther can be everywhere and nowhere… and what innocent members of the public don’t know is that he is a channel for the violent dreams of Eduard Kross, Eastern Europe’s most prolific serial killer of the 20th century.
When Byrne and Balzano are called to a bizarre murder scene in Priory Park, they discover a man has been killed by a railroad spike driven into his head. But this is just the beginning of a trail of evil which will lead them back to the hospital, to a missing girl and to unimaginable horrors.
The Stolen Ones presents a fascinating and outlandishly evil scenario and Montanari does a brilliant job of milking it for every ounce of gripping, gothic horror … claustrophobic catacombs stalked by a haunted, hunted, homicidal maniac and body bags full of mystifying clues that seem to lead nowhere until the final, explosive showdown reveals all.
Few contemporary crime writers can deliver psycho thrillers with such power, panache and pitch perfect pacing. These are dark, disturbing stories told in pulsating prose and with a memorable air of menace.
Welcome to the heart of darkness…
(Sphere, paperback, £7.99)