“Unsub” by Meg Gardiner is the first in a series, introducing San Francisco detective Caitlin Hendrix. This clever plot will remind reminders of the 1990s serial executioner the Zodiac Killer. As with the real killer the murderer in this series, the Prophet, has readers looking over their shoulder, becoming more aware of their surroundings.
As a young child the author remembers, “hearing about the Zodiac Killer who wreaked terror on the Bay area. The Zodiac sent dozens of messages to the police and media, including cryptograms that have never been broken. The terror wrought by the killings still lingers today. I grew up in California, spooked by the knowledge that the Zodiac could strike at any time. Today, I’m spooked by the thought that the killer hasn’t been caught. The Zodiac could still be out there. And, being a thriller writer, spooky thoughts lead me to spooky ideas. What if a terrifying cold case turned hot again? What if a killer who’d disappeared resumed killing decades later? And what was his motivation: killing for thrills, lusting for the publicity, and/or trying to gain power over people by fear.”
It begins with narcotics detective Caitlin Hendrix asked to join the homicide unit because of who she knows. Twenty years ago the Prophet terrorized the city and haunted the detective trying to capture him who also happens to be Caitlin’s father. Wanting to pick Mack Hendrix’s brain those working the case feel his daughter would be the best person for the job. Unfortunately, this “unsub” has returned with a vengeance. As with her father, he is playing with Caitlin’s mind, teasing and taunting her. Mack still has regrets about the one who got away and she is motivated to find the Prophet and bring him to justice, righting a wrong done to her dad.
Gardiner does a wonderful job exploring the father/daughter relationship. Although strained it is obvious that they love and respect one another. He was her role model and inspiration for becoming a detective. The book quote speaks to the Prophet’s effect on her family’s life, “The poison that had cored a hole in her life, marked her as an outsider as a kid, and driven her to become a police officer.” Emphasizing that she was not going to destroy her life as it had her dad’s.
Describing the father/daughter relationship as strained, Gardiner wants to convey that Mack “was her hero growing up yet she found it very painful to watch him unable to come to grips with not solving this crime. Because she loved him she wants to right the things he could not. The Prophet forces them to reconnect and face their own demons. I put in the book this quote, ‘Job stays at the station,’ because she saw how this case broke her dad emotionally, consuming his life.”
Bringing in astronomy, religion, and book literature made the story even more potent. It was very interesting how the author showed Mercury as an element, astrological sign, and a planet. Caitlin explains, “It depends on what mercury means to him. Mercury the planet closest to the sun? Or Mercury the winged messenger-Roman god, guide of souls to the underworld. Or maybe mercury the chemical element…The only metal that’s liquid at room temperature.”
Readers will feel their heart beating as they follow the Prophet’s sadistic nature. Just when they think they have everything figured out Gardiner will throw in some twists that turn everything upside down. This plot will get into people’s head and under their skin so beware to read it during the daytime.