Saturday, May 16, 2020

An Intense and Complex Novel from William Bayer

At the center of this intense and complex psychological thriller is a forensic sketch artist named David Weiss. David is a native of Calista, a city in the Midwest, but he has lived for years in California. Twenty-five years earlier, a wealthy divorcee named Barbara Fulraine and her young lover were shotgunned to death in the seedy Flamingo Court motel on the outskirts of Calista. Fulraine was a troubled woman whose young daughter had been kidnapped several years earlier and is presumed dead. Her lover was a teacher at her sons' private school, and she was also having an affair with a local mobster. David Weiss's father was the therapist who was treating Barbara Fulraine and attempting to untangle all her erotic dreams and activities without becoming entangled in them himself.

If that all sounds pretty complicated, that's just for openers. For reasons of his own, David has always been haunted by the Flamingo Court murders. The killer was never identified and captured, and David's father committed suicide shortly after the murders. Now, a quarter of a century later, David returns to his hometown, working as a sketch artist for a TV network, covering a sensational local murder trial.

It's immediately clear, though, that Weiss is far more absorbed by the murder case from twenty-five years earlier than the one he's been hired to sketch, and he finds himself drawn inexorably back into the Calista of his youth, with all its dark, ugly and still dangerous secrets. His skill as a forensic sketch artist, particularly his uncanny ability to empathize with witnesses, may enable him to shed new light on a very old mystery. But it may also take him down some roads better left untraveled.

This is an intricately-plotted novel with well-drawn characters and an interesting plot. The story did seem to drag at points, but watching David Weiss fall increasingly under the spell of this old murder case was, at times, riveting. I'm giving this book 3.5 stars rounded down to 3 because I thought that after 450 very densely-packed pages, the climax was a bit disappointing and wasn't quite the payoff I'd been hoping for. Still, an enjoyable read.

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