The Barnes & Noble Review
Veteran journalist Jess Walter (Every Knee Shall Bow) has just written what might be termed the first postmodern serial killer story. In his debut novel, Over Tumbled Graves, Walter takes the standard elements of an overworked form -- the string of brutal killings, the protracted manhunt, the speculative, specialized psychological profiles -- and effectively turns them on their head.
Over Tumbled Graves -- a title derived from T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland -- begins in Spokane, Washington, in April 2001. (And April, as Eliot reminds us, is the cruelest month.) In the opening pages, a drug-related sting operation goes tragically wrong, and undercover operative Caroline Mabrey watches helplessly as one of her two targets pushes the other -- a small-time drug dealer -- into the rocky, churning rapids of the Spokane River and then makes his escape.
Police identify the escaped killer as Lenny Ryan, a recently paroled ex-convict. Lenny soon evolves into a one-man crime wave, murdering two more people within a 24-hour period. As the hunt for Lenny progresses, a parallel development takes place. The decaying body of a teenage prostitute is discovered in a shallow grave on the riverbank. The victim has been shot and strangled, and two $20 bills have been placed in her hand. Shortly afterward, a second, identical corpse turns up in the same location. When a third victim appears in the general vicinity, Spokane police draw the obvious conclusion and begin the process of tracking down a serial murderer.
Two deeply sympathetic figures dominate the subsequent manhunt. One is Caroline Mabrey, a fallible, intuitive detective haunted by her mother's recent death and by an assortment of disquieting memories. The other is Sgt. Alan Dupree, Caroline's friend and mentor, a flippant, old-fashioned policeman with personal issues of his own. As Mabrey and Dupree -- aided by a pair of headline-hunting, FBI-trained "experts" -- work through a maze of dead ends and inconclusive clues, they discover unexpected connections between Lenny Ryan's crime spree and the gradual accumulation of murdered prostitutes. Their investigation ultimately leads to a startling revelation in which the "rational" motives of a sane, calculating killer and the irrational behavioral patterns of a serial murderer meet and merge.
Over Tumbled Graves is an intellectually satisfying, psychologically acute novel that defies conventional expectations, breaking new ground in the process. It is also an involving, immensely readable book marked by credible characterizations and a steadily increasing narrative momentum. Jess Walter is clearly a writer worth watching. (Bill Sheehan)
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).
Washington Post Book World
Walter's powerful fiction debut...stands out from run-of-the-mill serial killer novels....His pensive prose style...always rings true.
Instead of fixating on the lurid details of torture or playing to readers' fears, Over Tumbled Graves primarily follows the emotional journey of the detectives trying to stop the violence. The book also uncovers the hypocrisy and ego that plague what the author calls the "serial killer industry" -- the ever-growing tribe of reporters and so-called serial-killer trackers who specialize in turning fear into profit. In doing so, Walter offers readers a wonderfully plotted story and a very effective emotional subplot involving the relationship between his two main protagonists.
Washington Post Book World
Jess Walter has just about lapped the field with his superior first novel, Over Tumbled Graves. The suspense and surprises are terrific, but best of all are the characters he has managed to create.
A home run off the first pitch....A tremendous debut, full of pace and tension and unexpected twists, of course, but also full of depth and quiet intelligence that together lift it head and shoulder above the pack.
An exceptional crime novel that transcends the mystery of crime and takes a courageous look at an even more profound mystery....Totally absorbing.
Walter's powerful fiction debut....stands out from run-of-the-mill serial killer novels....
Breathtaking.Moving.Insightful. Excellent quality of writing.
First rate writing speeds us to a perfectly foreshadowed plot twist and a gripping conclusion.
Shifting like...currents, the story moves swiftly, promising a fast-paced thriller filled with inner turmoil as well as action.
An original page-turner in this overcrowded genre.
New York Times Book Review
Disquieting. Walter's...incisive sensitivity...emerges as a bitter metaphor.
Dallas Morning News
Suspenseful,challenging and intelligently written, Over Tumbled Graves is a first novel of considerable depth and insight.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Shifting ably to fiction, true crime specialist Walter (In Contempt; Every Knee Shall Bow), turns out a strong, character-driven serial-killer thriller. In Spokane, Wash., a handful of homicide investigators watch helplessly as one prostitute after another is found murdered in a downtown park. Sgt. Alan Dupree, an old-style cop who eschews modern police investigative methods like criminal profiling, initially leads the team. As the so-called Southbank Killer's death toll rises, Dupree is replaced by Chris Spivey, an arrogant upstart with great academic credentials but no street savvy. Spivey brings in two nationally known serial-killer profilers, who waste precious time belittling each other personally and professionally while drawing up what are essentially boilerplate profiles. Spivey also recruits Det. Caroline Mabry, a hard-working investigator who manages to rise above squad-room politics and disagreements about how the case should be handled. Mabry is a complex character, suffering from a raft of personal problems as well as career doubts. She and Dupree finally uncover evidence that the whole investigation has been built on a faulty premise. Unlike many entries in the serial killer category, Walter's stays fresh by placing character development above shock value. His focus is on the human side of police work, not on the killer and his ghoulish behavior. (Feb.) Forecasts: A rave endorsement from James Patterson, who's not nearly as blurb-happy as is, say, Stephen King, could go a ways in making readers take notice of this fine first novel. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
In this debut novel about a serial killer, reporter and nonfiction author Walter (Every Knee Shall Bow) displays his knowledge, from police procedure to forensics. The body count in Spokane suddenly spirals out of control when a drug dealer, an old man, and a pawnbroker are killed in quick succession. Soon police turn up the bodies of one prostitute after another, each clutching two $20 bills. Working the case and haunted by it, Detective Caroline Mabry has her own problems to deal with: a shooting six years earlier, relationships both actual (with a man 12 years her junior) and potential (with her older, married mentor), and her mother's death. As the special taskforce circles in on one killer, Mabry begins to question the one-suspect-fits-all theory. The book features signature serial murders, a strong female protagonist who doesn't call for backup, relationships gone awry, even dueling profilers, but it's a little short on suspense and subtlety. Walter ties everything together neatly at the end, but in this case less would have made a more satisfying thriller. A marginal purchase. Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A Washington Post journalist (Every Knee Shall Bow, 1995, not reviewed) brings together a tight, well-researched, and satisfying first novel that follows the unexpected path of a serial killer in Spokaneand his heroine's attempts to keep up. Smart, single women with pockets of unresolved guilt are big in crime novels these days, and Caroline Mabry is no exception. Daughter of divorced parents, the 36-year-old Mabry is a detective recruited to join the Southbank Strangler task force after an opening drug bust goes bad and the Spokane River's banks start yielding up bodies. On the team with her is Dupree, a gruff cop with a tender heart, a stubborn streak and an unhappy marriage. Years earlier, Dupree had comforted Caroline after her first shooting; they'd nearly made love, and the suppressed urges add modest suspense to the background of the story. Caroline still doesn't know if it was a"good shoot" and still doesn't know if her 22-year-old boyfriend is right for her. So far, this is standard formula for the genre. But Walter collects his details well, and renders them in aptly coarse, rarely overheated prose. Crime scenes,"signatures," and the ragged world of Spokane prostitution are treated with a sure, experienced hand, as are the interagency conflicts that result when a pair of celebrity profilers are brought in to help. The prime suspect in the case is not, of course, who you think it is, and though the actual killer isn't revealed until the last 20 pages or so, Walter gives the reader a credible chase throughout. The twistthat the perp, with his grief and meticulous ways, is eerily similar to Mabrymakes the suggestive point that the distinctionsbetweenserialkillers and the profilers and detectives who chase them share more in common than they'd like to think. A well-executed tale from a journalist who serves the reader a nice variation on the Good Women, Hard Jobs, Tough Spots motif. Author tour
“[An] intelligent, gripping, and genuinely scary novel...”
The Seattle Times
"(Walter's) powerful fiction debut....stands out from run-of-the-mill serial killer novels...."
“(Walter’s) first novel is an accomplished character study...A very satisfying debut.”
The Washington Post Book World
“Outstanding. Riveting. Never sacrifices action for emotional impact.”
The Dallas Morning News
“Suspenseful,challenging and intelligently written, Over Tumbled Graves is a first novel of considerable depth and insight.”
The Mystery Review
“Breathtaking.Moving.Insightful. Excellent quality of writing.”
Read an Excerpt
Caroline Mabry was transfixed by falling water. For her, the river had other currents, pulling her to its banks when she was upset or distracted, when she wanted to lose herself. She did this most often at the falls -- the dramatic series of rocky, churning rapids at the center of her city. Determined upstream, even languid and eddied in places, the Spokane River began to tumble here, to froth and roil, and eventually to fall.
Sometimes the river's pull surprised Caroline. She would be running errands or jogging or riding her bike and suddenly find herself here, on the footbridge between the upper falls and the Monroe Street Dam. She was amazed by this place, by what it meant for a city to have at its heart a tumbling, roaring waterfall. Here, overwhelmed by scale, she could drift into epiphanies of scope and flow and believe that a river has a purpose more vital than transportation or power. The river cleansed the city, carried away its debris, itssump and its suicides. The river irrigated the long, gray wound of civilization. Over time she'd begun to bring her own chronic infections to the river, her random loneliness and cyclic despair, her isolation. And if she wasn't cured by the falls, her jagged anxieties were at least dispersed, drowned out by white water, dwarfed by boulders that jutted like broken bones from the river's skin.
Caroline paused on a footbridge over the falls, checked her watch, and finished crossing, pushing the baby stroller deeper into the park, over an embankment covered with people and blankets, Frisbees and Hacky Sacks, to a still arm of the river, dammed off from the rocky channel across the park as aplace for ducks and park benches, for lovers and quiet contemplation. The Spokane River was steel and steady here, gray, moving like molten metal between its banks. Caroline wondered what it meant to be more comfortable with the airy roar of the falls than with this pleasant meandering, this stillness. But she blinked away her doubts and concentrated, wheeling her stroller along the sidewalk, finding her place. Waiting.
At thirty-six, Caroline Mabry looked ten years younger and felt ten years older, with round green eyes and short brown hair that softened her tall, athletic build. She stood next to the stroller at the base of a wide footbridge and leaned against a piling to tie her new running shoes. Looking up, she made eye contact across the bridge with a transient who had been in the park all day, a transient in new running shoes. Then, as if operating from a checklist, Caroline stretched, bent at the waist in her nylon running suit, pushed away from the piling, checked on her baby, put on her sunglasses, and surveyed the park.
The park that day had a strange but familiar feel, very much like a map on a wall, with pins marking the major players. But it was also tinged with a fleeting déjà vu, a sensation Caroline had always imagined was akin to losing one's mind, attaching meaning to every movement. Looking around the park, she allowed herself to believe that none of it was real -- not the Frisbees, not the dogs, not even the river, and certainly not herself, a young mother out for a walk on a sunny day in the park.
Across the bridge, a businessman on a park bench paused to look up from his two-day-old Wall Street Journal, caught her eye, and smiled. Her own thoughts seemed deafening, as if everyone would know what she was thinking, and wonder how she knew the businessman had been there all day and that he was wearing the same brand of ninety-dollar running shoes as the transient, the same as she was.
The three -- Caroline with her baby, the transient with his pack, the businessman with his newspaper -- made a sort of triangle around the wide footbridge, Caroline on one side, the other two across the bridge. In the middle of the triangle, just over the bridge on the side of the businessman and the transient, was a sinewy black kid in baggy carpenter pants, a white T-shirt, untied cross-trainers, and a New York Giants football cap. His name was Kevin Hatch, but he went by the street name Burn, a fact that Caroline knew as well. If someone did share her thoughts, that person would be amazed at the things she knew, the nearsighted omniscience she had in the park that day, like a god who knows everything except what will happen next.
A voice crackled in Caroline's ear: "We're good. Go on the next buy."
Caroline sat down against a bridge piling with a paperback book and turned the page every minute or so. After five pages, she stood and checked her baby, then sat back down and turned more pages. Within ten minutes, a man had approached Burn, a man about forty, with shoulder-length hair, wearing khaki pants and a plain black T-shirt. He wore sunglasses, and Caroline was taken by the fact that she knew nothing about him. She watched Burn greet the man, first suspiciously, then warmly, as if the man had mentioned a mutual acquaintance to gain Burn's confidence. The man spoke and Burn listened, nodding a couple of times.
Nearby, conversations rose and blended -- a couple's charmed declarations, teenage pleas, some hushed conspiracy from men in suits. On the other side of the bridge, the transient eased up from the ground and began moving forward as the sun edged away from thin cloud cover, lighting the park and river as if a curtain were being drawn.
They waited for Burn to reach out with a cupped hand to the man in khaki pants, a move repeated dozens of times each day --drugs going out in one handshake, cash coming back in the next. Over Tumbled Graves. Copyright © by Jess Walter. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.