Book of Shadows by Alexandra Sokoloff
Homicide detective Adam Garrett is already a rising star in the Boston police department when he and his cynical partner, Carl Landauer, catch a horrifying case that could make their careers: the ritualistic murder of a wealthy college girl that appears to have Satanic elements.
The partners make a quick arrest when all the evidence points to another student, a troubled musician in a Goth band who was either dating or stalking the murdered girl. But Garrett’s case is turned upside down when beautiful, mysterious Tanith Cabarrus, a practicing witch from nearby Salem, walks into the homicide bureau and insists that the real perpetrator is still at large. Tanith claims to have had psychic visions that the killer has ritually sacrificed other teenagers in his attempts to summon a powerful, ancient demon.
All Garrett’s beliefs about the nature of reality will be tested as he is forced to team up with a woman he is fiercely attracted to but cannot trust, in a race to uncover a psychotic killer before he strikes again.
For me personally, the most effective kinds of horror are the stories that seem the most plausible. Those are the stories that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Book of Shadows falls firmly into this category. Yes, you’re right the eagle eyed amongst you, there are inexplicable events that take place, but at its heart this is the story of a policeman attempting to track down a violent killer. The motivations of the killer, real or imagined, are in this instance almost secondary. This is story about a man trying to prevent terrible events when the purpose of those events is far beyond his comprehension.
On top of the realistic police investigation that unfolds, there is the heightened reality of the supernatural elements that occur. It struck me that anyone could read this novel irrespective of your personal feelings about witchcraft, or Satanism, and whether you believe in them or not. The author has left certain key plot points deliberately ambiguous allowing the reader to form their own conclusions about the nature of what is going on. Is the killing the work of some supernatural demonic force or just the action of a deeply disturbed individual?
The main protagonist, Adam Garrett, was raised a Catholic and considers himself very grounded in his own world view. He is thrown into a sub-culture that he doesn’t fully understand and forced to confront ideas that are entirely at odds with everything he believes in. The internal turmoil Garrett experiences when interacting with Tanith Cabarrus is a perfect example of this and it works well. He is drawn to her exotic free spirit, but in the same breath can’t bring himself to trust her. This conflict forms the basis of their often heated relationship.
Some may find the pace of the novel slow in places, but I liked the insight into the methodical approach that Garrett and his partner take at each step of the investigation. The tension gradually builds as the plot unfolds and the inevitable showdown between cop and killer ends in a satisfying payoff that fits with the novel’s overall tone.
Alex Sokoloff is, by her own admission, a recovering screenwriter and the influence from her previous occupation shows in her writing. The descriptions and characters that a reader will meet in Book of Shadows have a richness and depth that sometimes are lacking in other novels. I have to admit I was surprised how engrossing I found the book. The story kept me riveted and I read it from cover to cover in a couple of sittings.
I recently read Nocturnal by Scott Sigler and felt that there were strong, reverential nods to The Wire. Book of Shadows also put me in mind of a television show. The grim nature of the crime that is being investigated, the bleakness that surrounds the characters, this downbeat but captivating quality reminded me of The Killing. Horrible events have occurred but Detective Garrett and his partner are determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
For fans of dark crime who also appreciate supernatural chills, Book of Shadows is available from St Martin’s Press in the US and via Amazon in the UK.