Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A rag and a bone are literally all the Seattle PD has to work with after a violent fire consumes a home and its helpless female occupant, a divorced mother. When a second victim dies the same way, detective Lou Boldt (Chain of Evidence, etc.) and police psychologist Daphne Matthews (both Pearson regulars) begin the process of profiling a serial killer who uses rocket fuel to torch women because they resemble his mother. Elsewhere, a young boy named Ben, whose abusive stepfather has all but driven him into the street, has been befriended by a fraudulent "psychic" named Emily Richland, who hires Ben to scout her clients' vehicles while they're meeting with her. This task leads, in the novel's best scene, to Ben witnessing an exchange of cash for rocket fuel, a sighting that in turn eventually takes the police to their killer. Much of the plot teeters on the coincidental nature of all these connections, and on the unlikely bits of evidence used to corner the suspect (e.g., a ladder's impressions left on backyard grass). The intricate forensics that have driven so many of Pearson's novels are largely missing here, and secondary characters are sketched quickly and without depth. Even Boldt and Matthews have lost their shine, bickering a lot while insisting that they love one another, while Boldt's long-suffering wife, Liz, is discarded in cruel fashion. But no doubt the Boldt-Matthews team will be back, hopefully to solve cases less confusing and farfetched than this one. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Feb.)
Fans of award-winning thriller writer Pearson take note: Seattle Police Sergeant Lou Boldt is back, battling a scholar-arsonist who vaporizes his victims in hotter-than-hot house fires. Equally dangerous and about to blow is the smoldering romance between Boldt, who's drifting away from his wife, and police department psychologist Daphne Matthews. Pearson masterfully depicts the sparks between them. "A student of people, of behavior, of music, science, the arts," Boldt is an unusually appealing cop who treats himself with elegant high teas and worries about victims as if they were family. A riveting secondary plot involving a motherly psychic and her young accomplice parallels the main one until the two plots converge. Shop talk is authentic, but at times we feel we're hanging around the station too long. Moving from one punchy scene to the next, this fuse-burning suspense tale is wonderful reading for a wide audience. Recommended for all fiction collections; librarians should note that three earlier books in the Boldt-Matthews series are in development with HBO.-Molly Gorman, San Marino, Cal.
Patricia Cornwell could take lessons from Sgt. Lou Boldt and police psychologist Daphne Matthews (No Witnesses, 1994, etc.) as they go up against a madman arsonist driving down property values in Seattle.
The fires are so hotone of them shoots a pillar of flame two miles into the airthat they destroy all physical evidence at ground zero, including the victims (the first is identified by a single bone). So The Scholar, so dubbed because he sends fire inspector Steven Garman a quotation from Nietzsche or Lao-tzu before carefully setting each fire, isn't leaving any traceexcept one: a series of visits to low-rent psychic Emily Richland to ask whether such-and-such a date is propitious. Emily duly notifies the cops, but, meantime, her unofficial helper, 12- year-old Ben Santori, has already gotten into the act, following her sinister visitor and putting himself squarely in harm's way. At the same time, Boldt and Matthews have managed not only to compile a group portrait of the victimsthey're all dark-haired divorcées with children between eight and ten who were spared from the fires that claimed their mothersbut to cobble together enough information about the arsonist's modus operandi to give them a prime suspect. Already on the ropes because of his wife Liz's suspicious behavior, Boldt struggles to put together a case, but not in time to save his family from being driven from their home. Now a point for the diabolically clever Scholar, now a point for the painstaking Boldt and Matthewsuntil they know enough to stake out a decoy in a hundred-page finale that'll give your heart more exercise than a ten-mile run.
Pearson's dazzling forensics will hook his usual fans. But it's the richness of incident and the control of pace that'll keep them dangling as he switches gears each time you think the story's got to be winding down in this exhilarating entertainment.