Review: The third challenge in the series James Patrick Hunt has created for mid-forty-year-old St. Louis PD detective, Lieutenant George Hastings, is to find a psychopath who Hunt reveals early on is driven to believe that it's only strong men who "can return from a succession of murder and rape with contentment and joy in their hearts." Hastings, a transplanted Nebraskan, eventually meets the test, but only after three women are brutally murdered, he gets help or hindrance from his colleagues and superiors, and readers get wide-ranging insights into the procedures of a modern-day police department, the malfunctioning mind of a madman and the lives of pleasure business employees, their often secretive clients, and stressed-out cops. With its minimalist style and its crackling, run-along dialogue, Hunt's novel sweeps its readers from a horrific opening to a cathartic conclusion, and with a riveting story in between.
At thirty-three years of age, St. Mary's Hospital ER physician, Dr. Raymond Sheffield, single, well-respected, and earning $400,000 annually, should be at the top of his game. Problem is his game has become murder, he's morphed into Springheel Jim, and his pawns are three young women, two of whom are twenty-year-old high-dollar prostitutes street-named Ashley and Estelle, with Marla, the third victim, a forty-two-year old real estate agent and wife of a wealthy St. Louis businessman. Leading the investigation into the brutal killings, at least until the politics and media pressures boil over, is hard-charging Detective Hastings. As he toils he balances his duty against his emotions over his thirteen-year-old daughter, Amy, his estranged ex-wife, Eileen, with "her own selfish motives," and his recently formed romantic alliance with criminal defence attorney, Carol McGuire, who knows Hastings "was the sort who could relax only on his own terms." With chapters that read like short stories and fascinating cutaways that fill in the gaps, Hunt cranks up the tension as he dissects Sheffield's warped brain and pits him against the rest of the world, looking down on his ER colleagues, maliciously plotting his murders, coldly executing his victims, and aggressively locking horns with his law enforcement bloodhounds. It is a masterfully chilling depiction of "evil is as evil does." Just as well done, though, are the expert grillings that Hastings subjects various suspects to as he works clues, trails, motives and them to find the crazed killer. And when he finally overtakes Springheel Jim and bests him in a heart-racing psychological game of killer versus cop, it's a relief to see good can still triumph over evil no matter how decadent nor where situated nor perpetrated by nor against whom.
Special thanks to M. Wayne Cunningham (firstname.lastname@example.org) for contributing his review of The Assailant.
Acknowledgment: Minotaur Books provided a copy of The Assailant for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — M. Wayne Cunningham — All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with Permission
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
The Silent Places
Minotaur Books (Hardcover), May 2010
ISBN-13: 9780312545796; ISBN-10: 0312545797
Location(s) referenced in The Assailant: St. Louis, Missouri
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The Assailant by James Patrick Hunt — A George Hastings Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: June 2009
List Price: $24.95