“The Names of Dead Girls” by Eric Rickstad is the sequel to the 2015 e-book original, “The Silent Girls.” These are part of the Canaan Crime series of psychological thrillers set in remote northern Vermont.
Rickstad noted that he became a writer due to, “My personal experiences that influenced my writings. When I was 14, my 17-year-old cousin and I encountered two older guys with shotguns. They ended up shooting at us with a shot going off on either side of my head. This affected me deeply.
“Another influence was that a friend of mine ended up being a criminal. In high school he was charming, athletic and just a good guy,” Rickstad said. “Yet, when I was watching CNN, I saw him die in a shootout with the police after he ran over a police officer. I was totally stunned. But I was also spurred to be a writer from my love for reading. I noticed how a string of words could elicit a range of emotions from happy to sad to scared. I wanted to be able to do this, allow readers to escape into a different world.”
This plot begins with college student Rachel Rath, the adoptive daughter of former detective Frank Rath. Rachel’s parents died a horrific death at the hands of murderer and serial rapist Ned Preacher. Able to work the system, he has been released from prison and has informed Rath he is going after Rachel. Although he gave up his badge to pursue justice as a private investigator, Rath has now been reinstated in the police force.
Another subplot has Detective Sonja Test investigating the apparent disappearance of Dana Clark, who has failed to materialize at her daughter’s house. Rath begins to connect the dots as he realizes Clark is the last victim of the Preacher before he went to jail. Their investigation escalates along with the body count.
The emotional tension ratchets up with each of the character’s motivations. Frank, desperate to protect his own family while seeking justice for the “dead girls,” works within the bounds of his conscience. Rachel, now aware of her identity and also the brutality her parents’ deaths, seeks revenge. And Sonja Test, torn between ambition and her home life, makes decisions that will profoundly impact her personal and professional life.
The author played off the title regarding the theme of the book.
“I had some detectives try to avoid the mention of victims names when discussing a case, allowing them to remain objective and emotionally removed,” he said. “This contrasted with Sonja Test, who wants everyone to know who the girls were and how they lived their lives. She insists their names are mentioned because she wants to personalize the victims.”
Rickstad said he decided to explore the issues of moral versus legal.
“I liked having Frank Roth in the situation where he has to protect his adopted daughter,” he said. “He is not sure how to seek justice and if he is going to go out of the bounds of the law. I did not want to make him a vigilante but have him figure out how to capture this guy and prevent more victims. He must cope with a killer who is evil, slippery, and cunning.”
He will continue this exploration in his next book, “What Remains of Her.” It is a stand-alone psychological thriller also set in Vermont with a whole set of new characters. The plot has a man turned recluse after the disappearance of his wife and daughter 20 years ago. While living in the mountains, he finds a girl in the woods the same age as his daughter. He wonders if she is the reincarnation of his daughter.
Rickstad writes dark, gritty and disturbing plots where the setting plays a huge role. Readers get a sense of evil lurking at every corner and will want to read this with a light on at all times.