Erica Spindler has built her career upon the unexpected. Her earlier work was in the romance field; she has gradually transformed herself into an author more closely associated with mysteries and, more specifically, romantic suspense. Spindler isn't afraid to vary characters and locales from book to book, and even where she revives a familiar character --- as in her latest novel --- Spindler does so with a change of place and circumstance.
KILLER TAKES ALL heralds the return of Stacy Killian, first introduced to the reading public in SEE JANE DIE. Killian has left behind her occupation as a Dallas, Texas homicide detective. Now pursuing graduate studies in English at the University of New Orleans, she is hoping to get her life on track and forget the violence of her past life and the heartbreak that it has caused her. Killian, however, is an unwilling and unwitting magnet for trouble. Her relatively idyllic life is abruptly shattered when the neighbors who share the other half of her shotgun double are brutally and mysteriously murdered while Killian sleeps, unaware, next door. Killian had become friends with the women, a factor that increases her moral sense of outrage one-hundredfold.
She begins her own de facto investigation almost immediately, much to the chagrin of New Orleans Police Detective Spencer Malone, one of the homicide police officers assigned to the case, and is quickly (if somewhat improbably) running laps around him and his partner, Detective Tony Sciame. Killian herself is soon warned off of her investigation by an anonymous attacker, an incident that makes her all the more determined to continue pursuing it. Her most significant discovery revolves around the fact that one of the victims was involved in White Rabbit, a shadowy role-playing game with extremely dark overtones. She does not believe that it is entirely coincidental that the co-creator of White Rabbit is currently residing in New Orleans.
Leonardo Noble, a legendary genius whose creations have earned him a fortune, resides in a brooding mansion several blocks from the French Quarter. His household is a quiet but seething menagerie of personalities that includes himself, his ex-wife and business partner, and his teenaged daughter, a genius in her own right whose brooding demeanor conceals some secrets of her own. Noble has received anonymous messages that seem to be connected to the murders of Killian's neighbors. Yet Noble and everyone in his household soon appear to be suspect in some way. As Malone and Killian find themselves unofficially and reluctantly working together, more murders occur --- foretold by cryptic notes --- and it becomes clear that someone is using the White Rabbit game as a vehicle for real-world mayhem. Anyone can be a victim --- and anyone can be the murderer.
Spindler continues her practice from her past mystery novels of doing a number of things quietly but extremely well. She is able to effectively weave a web of suspicion over a great number of characters, gradually eliminating suspects --- by mortality or otherwise --- but making it almost impossible to predict the outcome. Spindler also nicely balances her story and characters against the backdrop of New Orleans, that most exotic of settings. It is easy to forget that there is more to New Orleans than the French Quarter, that it is but one neighborhood in a city full of them, each possessing their own unique personality. Spindler never forgets this, taking the reader on a tour of the multifaceted personalities of streets and people making up the city --- and her tale is richer for it.
KILLER TAKES ALL is perhaps Spindler's best work to date, and one that hopefully will lead to further tales of Killian.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 1, 2005