'The Death Messenger' is a crime novel you won't want to put down
"The Death Messenger" by Mari Hannah (Minotaur Books, 448 pages, in stores)
Detective Superintendent Eloise O'Neil and Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan were on opposite sides in Hannah's novel "The Silent Room." In the sequel, "The Death Messenger," they are working together in a new, elite and super-secret crime-fighting squad.
The story begins at Christmastime 2013 in Northumbria in northeast England, when the police department receives a DVD showing an extremely bloody crime scene but no victim. This is the second death message O'Neil has seen. Another DVD showing a crime scene with blood everywhere but no visible victim was sent to the Sussex Police Department. In both DVDs a seeming emotionless woman describes how she committed both murders. Her camera angles emphasize the horror.
After the DVDs were delivered, a woman made anonymous phone calls to both police stations giving specific directions to the crime scenes. O'Neil and Ryan believe the narrator and the caller are the same woman. They begin calling her Spielberg.
O'Neil and Ryan locate a crime scene eight miles east of Newcastle which matches what they saw on the Northumbria DVD. They don't find a body, but blood at the scene is identified as that of a female. They also find an expensive looking man's shoe. It is the first of many misdirections planted by the killer or killers. The investigators know that they are being played. They also believe that the killer has an accomplice.
As if this weren't enough bad news, O'Neil learns that another death message was received by police in Scotland on Oct. 8. Her supervisor, Ford, neglected to mention this murder to her. Ford dislikes women and believes that women who choose career over family are to be avoided at all costs. O'Neil thinks that what Ford knows about policing could be written on the back of a postage stamp. She doesn't see why she has to answer to a man who has never so much as seen an angry dog.
On Oct. 14, the presiding judge of Scotland announced the disappearance of Lord Justice Clerk Leonard Maxwell, Lord Trevathan, who was to preside over a high-profile trial concerning terrorists set to start that day. Were these murder cases dumped on O'Neil and Ryan as a test of their skill? If they put a foot wrong, they could be back in uniform.
The receipt of another DVD is followed by a phone call from Spielberg. Ryan challenges her to tell them where the other victims are located. She responds with an address. There they find the body of a hospital nurse named James Fraser. And, at the same time, the judge's body floats up in the River Tay.
What possible connection could there be between a top-rank judge and a well-regarded nurse? O'Neil and Ryan need more help to sort out the information they have. O'Neil hires Grace, who is retired after a long career with the Serious Incidence Squad, and her new husband, Frank, who is a spook/ultra-secret spy whose has deep contacts. Grace speaks very directly, sometimes sarcastically. Frank never says two words if one will do. Help also is enlisted from Ryan's sister, Caroline, who is blind.
Newman tells the team that the British ambassador to Denmark was killed in Copenhagen in what was reported as a robbery. A DVD dated July 28 was sent to police there. It appears to have been Spielberg's first murder.
Why would one woman commit four murders that appear to have no connections? Is she getting revenge, or is she an avenging angel? Can this team find the link or links to solve these crimes and prevent further bloodshed?
"The Death Messenger" is a very interesting police procedural on how crimes are investigated and clues are evaluated. The best information science and technology can provide lay the groundwork, but it is the detectives who make the difference. Their intensive efforts cause them to skip meals. They sleep poorly or not at all. They sometimes doubt themselves and their teammates. Tempers flare, and accusations are hurled. And, they ask, why is their supervisor hindering them instead of helping? Who is really overseeing their unit?
Spielberg leads the team on many twists and turns, and they discover secret after secret. Teamwork leads them to the murderer and her motive. It certainly is not what I expected, but it is the right one. I enjoyed this story, and I especially enjoyed the interaction of the team members. They seemed very real and likeable, and I want to read more stories about them.
The book is fairly long, but I read it very quickly. The prologue and intermittent chapters are written from the view of the murderer, which was chilling. I was not put off by the settings in Great Britain or the British terms (including street slang). They are understandable in the text.
— Jeanie Soles, for The Oklahoman