David Baldacci has taken a new approach to murder in HOUR GAME. The killer he has created is no run-of-the-mill killer. Quite the contrary. This killer shows an astounding cleverness, exhibiting an ego that mocks the police by making sure the clues he leaves are obvious and in plain sight, while at the same time ensuring that he "plays" by the rules --- warped rules, admittedly, but rules nonetheless.
The small Virginia town of Wrightsburg sees very few murders, and most of those are domestic disputes. So when a body shows up in the woods, the local lawmen get very nervous. Evidence points to foul play immediately, no question. The positioning of the corpse and some gruesome trademarks well known as the MO of a long-ago serial killer leave no doubt about that. Has the Zodiac started up again? Authorities don't think so, since his age would render him incapable of the physical strength required to snuff the life out of the young woman, not to mention muscle the body deep into the woods. A copycat maybe? An equally chilling thought, but it, too, soon proves to be a dead end. Maybe a pair working in tandem?
While the cops are scrambling to understand the killer's strategy, a couple of high school lovers turn up slaughtered, and another calling card --- reminiscent of another infamous serial killer --- is left at the scene. The police admit they are truly baffled. Who is this fiend and what is he trying to tell them? They fear that if they don't figure it out soon, there will be more corpses. But unearthing a common thread between the victims proves a disheartening challenge. The clues are unmistakable yet don't seem to form any cohesive pattern except that, for some reason, wristwatches are being left on the bodies in what appears to be a taunting message. Before the authorities can piece it together, their worst fears are realized.
In the same little town, private investigator Michelle Maxwell and partner Sean King, who readers will remember from SPLIT SECOND, are looking into a burglary at the estate of the richest family in the area. In their follow-up interviews, they cannot help but notice that their paths are crossing those of the murder investigators. Soon, the FBI is called in to help, and Maxwell and King find themselves deputized, the Police Chief having decided that a pair with Secret Service backgrounds could be quite helpful. Good thing, too, because the body count just keeps going up.
Intricately plotted, HOUR GAME contains a bagful of red herrings, with myriad clues that build a maze of misdirection. Just when you think the pace can't possibly intensify, it screams into a high gear you wouldn't have guessed existed. David Baldacci packs more into this few hundred pages than Hollywood does in a week-long miniseries.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 22, 2011