Fair warning: VICTIM SIX, Gregg Olsen’s newest thriller, will leave you paranoid. By “paranoid” I mean barbed wire around the house, panic room building, fallout shelter reclusive paranoid. I want tracking devices on my wife and daughters, armed guards surrounding them --- the whole nine yards --- after reading this vivid, graphic and shocking tale of a serial murderer who is successful because he breaks all the rules.
While this is a work of fiction, Olsen has a way of nudging and cajoling his narratives into the real world, and VICTIM SIX, set around a quasi-real Puget Sound in Washington State, has a real-world prickliness to it that chills the reader even as it engrosses. As the novel progresses, what begins as missing person’s cases become homicide investigations.
Kendall Stark and Josh Anderson are the Kitsap County sheriff’s detectives assigned to the case, hunting a monstrous killer who all too soon becomes known as “The Cutter.” Stark is an affirmative action placement, eager to do a good job though somewhat distracted by her personal life, which includes a special needs child she loves dearly but who requires an individualized school situation. Anderson is a middle-aged ladies man whose main concern is that his looks and attractiveness are beginning to fade. Never entirely focused on the case from the beginning, Anderson has his mind on Serenity Hutchins, a reporter for a local weekly newspaper.
Hutchins and Anderson develop a relationship that is somewhere between what is known as “friends with privileges” and “romantic”; what Anderson doesn’t realize is that he has become one of Hutchins’s primary sources, with the other being The Cutter. Hutchins has no idea that there is a chilling personal link between herself and the killer as well. As she begins to realize she knows The Cutter’s identity, she starts taking steps to bring the fiend to justice, little knowing that in doing so she faces mortal jeopardy from the most bitter betrayal of all.
One cannot read VICTIM SIX without feeling as if they personally know at least some of the people, both killer and victim, in the narrative. Gregg Olsen is possessed of the rare talent for making his characters realistic without being archetypal. The Cutter, in particular, is someone you know. I guarantee it. Quietly affable, sociable in small doses, there is something off about the guy that no one can quite put their finger on. If only they knew. Combine the memorable characterizations with the frightening, graphic descriptions of what is done to the victims, and you have a tale that will linger in your waking and sleeping hours no matter how hard you try to forget it.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 2, 2011