Review: Schaffhausen sets the standard for serial killer novels | book reviews

LAST LIVE SIGHT. By Joanna Schaffhausen. Minotaur. 320 pages. $27.99.

When Joanna Schaffhausen first introduced FBI Special Agent Reed Markham and Boston Police Officer Ellery Hathaway, the author placed serial killer Francis Coben at the center of their origin story. And yet, for four consecutive novels, the monster remained offstage.

Instead, he was portrayed as a hideous specter, haunting every part of Ellery’s life since he kidnapped her when she was 14 and nailed her to a closet that had once housed her. at least 16 other girls.

It was Reed who solved the case and saved her. Since then, fate has brought them together – first as friends, then as colleagues, and finally in a recurring romance in which love has failed to overcome the memories of the past. horror that brought them together.

Now, in “Last Seen Alive”, Coben finally appears, promising to reveal the burial places of some of his victims. But he has three conditions. Reed must visit him in jail, the crew of a true crime television show must tape the encounter, and the agent must take the person who haunted Coben’s dreams.

He wants Ellery, the sole survivor of his reign of terror.

The television producer pressures her to accept. Reed urges her to refuse. But Ellery, beset by survivor’s guilt, reluctantly agrees, fiercely determined to put an end to the families of the other victims.

Thus begins a complex, fast-paced story that includes a Coben impersonator killer, a daring prison break, a race to hunt down Coben before he can kill again, and a brutal takedown of TV shows that glorify killers in series for audience reasons.

When the police work is finally done, the evildoers defeated, and the intrigues resolved, Schaffhausen breaks the unwritten rules of these books by writing another 75 pages. In them, writing with empathy and psychological insight, she reveals how Reed and Ellery finally come to terms with the nightmare they shared through five beautiful romances and how they plan to live out the rest of their lives.

It works not just because it’s beautifully crafted, but because, unlike almost every other serial killer book, these novels were never about the killer and his pursuers.

They were about Reed and Ellery, and by extension all victims of this brutal violence.

In doing so, Schaffhausen has set a new standard for how such books can, and perhaps often should, be written.

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Alycia R. Lindley