I very much enjoyed Alafair Burke's three Samantha Kinkaid novels, which are superior legal thrillers. I blinked, though, because I missed the fact that Ms Burke has started writing a new series, featuring NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher. City of Fear is the second in this series, but there are sufficient clues to enable the new reader such as myself to identify with Ellie, her brother Jess, and the tragedy of her past in which her father died at the hand of a serial killer.
City of Fear is a tight, pacy police procedural, in which three Indiana college girls hit New York for their spring break. They go out clubbing, but one of them decides to stay out later than her two friends – and is murdered before she can return to her hotel. Ellie is out jogging the next morning when she passes the crime scene, so she is the detective assigned to the case, together with her handsome partner Rogan.
The story is a classic one, well-told, managing to tread the difficult line between conveying the horrific crime without salaciousness, and sympathy with the victim and her family. Painstaking police and forensic work identifies a prime suspect, "Jake", who apart from having film-star looks is a hedge-fund trader, so obviously someone not to be trusted. Jake, however, is really too obvious a suspect, and Ellie is convinced that the case is not that simple. Sure enough, a phone tip leads her to dig out some cold cases that were being investigated by her charismatic ex-partner (who featured in the first book in this series). Unable to convince her superiors to follow this evidence, Ellie becomes increasingly sure that the suspect is not the true criminal. Soon she identifies a more likely candidate, who seems to know things about the victim that only the police or the murderer could know. But even this line of enquiry is not what it seems.
City of Fear is a perfect light read. The plot is solid; Ellie is an attractive main character who makes errors of judgement, not least in her romantic choices, but who is determined to succeed as a cop. The red herrings are of a sufficient hue to distract the reader from the true solution to the crime until the end of the book.
Alafair Burke is the daughter of James Lee Burke, but she's a talent in her own right.