NAKED CRUELTY is a hard-hitting police procedural that grabs readers with its first sentence: “Didus ineptus,” nicknamed the Dodo, a serial rapist who escalates to murder. The time is the fall season of 1968 in Holloman, Connecticut, and the first rape to which readers are exposed is Maggie Drummond’s.
Maggie had been beaten nearly to death, and the rapist repeated his acts over and over, torturing her with asphyxiation among other things. When Captain Carmine Delmonico questions her, he realizes how strong-minded she is and that she wants the man caught so she can testify against him in court. The investigators know she is not his first victim.
A group of men known as the “Gentleman Walkers” have taken on the responsibility of patrolling the neighborhood because they believe one of their girlfriends was raped and is afraid to come forward. In addition, Helen MacIntosh has moved from the NYPD and is now a trainee on the force. She is rich and “connected,” ambitious and arrogant. But she’s needed.
Delmonico has more than Ms. MacIntosh on his mind. He has a new lieutenant who is too lazy and self-absorbed to take his job seriously and do it, and an older detective who is now coming to work drunk and even drinking on the job. As if this isn’t enough, even on the home front things are out of control. His wife, Desdemona, is going through a particularly difficult time after the birth of their second child, as the first one is busy terrorizing her.
The narrative is full of interesting characters: the crazy-seeming “actor” twins who turn up in the strangest places at inconvenient times; their aunt, who lives in town and owns a gorgeous glass shop that has a display of a priceless teddy bear in the window; vandals, who have begun a string of damaging acts; and German nobles with whom Delmonico must also deal.
As the rapes continue, the police realize that the Dodo is working on a schedule. He stalks his victims and somehow gets into their houses before striking. He waits for them to come home and blindsides them. He has a mask over his head, a hairless body and no distinguishing marks, and never speaks to his victims. Rather he holds up a sign that says: “TELL ANYONE AND YOU ARE DEAD. I AM DIDUS INEPTUS.” He doesn’t care if the police are on his trail; he thinks he’s invulnerable.
The tension is raised by the book’s twists and turns and will give any procedural/mystery/thriller fan a big dose of brain teasing. Colleen McCullough has wrought a strong cast of characters and never hints at what’s going to happen until readers turn the page. Her characters come across as real, and the situations they end up in are believable. She has a good ear for dialogue, and when they communicate, their words are finely honed and make all kinds of sense. Readers already will be clamoring for the next installment of this excellent series.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on December 2, 2011