THE VIGILANTES is the newest novel in W. E. B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV’s Badge of Honor series. Set in Philadelphia, the story centers on a string of brutal killings, with few clues for the elite detective unit to track down. Wealthy philanthropist Francis Franklin Fuller V believes in primitive justice and offers a $10,000 reward to any civilian who helps bring the killer(s) to justice. Fuller’s organization, Lex Talionis, becomes the drop-off point for the mounting number of dead bodies now termed “pop-and-drops” by the police. “Drops” identify dead bodies that accumulate in front of Fuller’s offices, not far from police precinct headquarters. Furthermore, the dastardly events have begun on Halloween.
The book begins in the mind of 54-year-old Will Curtis, who stalks two people who have wronged his family and gotten away with the rape of his 24-year-old daughter, Wendy. The sleazy lawyer got his client released on a technicality, never to serve the sentence for his crime. Curtis, ill from chemotherapy treatments, waits outside Daniel Garner’s law office, loaded Glock in hand. Curtis plans an elaborate scheme of vengeance for sex crimes against innocent women and children. His first two victims are rolled from his FedEx van onto the doorstep of Talionis.
But the pop-and-drops continue with additional bodies dropped for police to identify and rewards to claim. Matthew Payne, dubbed in the media as “Wyatt Earp of the Main Line” due to his unique “react first” style, comes off desk duty to lead the task force searching for the vigilante responsible for these dead bodies. Philadelphia’s murder statistics had been dropping until the vigilante killings began. The mayor is furious and demands immediate results from his police force.
At 27, Payne juggles his time spent on the crimes between love trysts with his romantic interest, Dr. Amanda Law. She has recently recovered from her abduction by a psychopath in front of the hospital where she works. Still traumatized by her near-death experience, she now resides in a residential apartment-hotel known in law enforcement as “the fortress.” Payne is certain that the Hops Haus Tower will shelter her from future harm. But she has visible concerns about her liaison with a cop and writes up his possible obituary as a reminder of their fragile relationship. The written words haunt him during the investigation that may get him killed.
More than one vigilante group emerges when the hit list grows larger. Two interesting facts emerge from the latest crime scenes: a huge volume of what appears to be human urine is splashed randomly at one site, and copies of police rap sheets are attached to some of the bodies. The sheets seem to be reprinted on the same type of cheap paper. One victim’s murder leads to another when a respected former school principal is found dead in her home, her granddaughter the only witness. Later, the criminal who intimidated the woman’s granddaughter is found brutally murdered, with his lengthy rap sheet close at hand. A problem with his death is that he’s been beaten by a gang of neighborhood youths who seek revenge for the teacher’s murder. As a group, they place his body in the appropriate place to claim the reward.
Meanwhile, a city councilman with sights on becoming mayor, H. Rapp Badde, becomes involved when land he has manipulated for condemnation is destroyed on a Sunday morning. Badde’s underhanded dealings involve declaring that the poor row houses in the downtrodden neighborhood are unfit for habitation. Armed by a “lands in public domain” ruling, his contractors begin the demolition. A bulldozer crashes into a house and scoops up a lifeless human body. Badde and his surly comrades halt the work. Involved with his beautiful assistant in an incestuous relationship, Badde makes certain that unscrupulous dealings by his campaign workers will not be unearthed. The sidelight problems he encounters make for an interesting secondary plot.
Payne’s foremost task is to stop the grisly killings, but he’s thwarted when Fuller increases his reward payout to $20,000. Payne and his partner, Harris, circle in on the citizen who has become a vigilante killer by analysis and coordination of the murder sites, physical evidence, if any, past associations of the criminals murdered, and witness memories. What they believe to be the next crime is soon near reach.
Curtis, though the villain, becomes somewhat likable by his tenacity to rid the city of sexual deviants. The vigilante atmosphere brings out the best and worst in the citizenry. The media highlights every aspect of these cases, including the rewards offered in hopes of helping police do their job. Payne’s dual problems --- keeping Amanda safe and happy, and himself alive --- move the story forward with electricity. Griffin and Butterworth introduce a large number of characters, which makes the reader pay attention the entire time. Together, they write a crime story that chronicles the daily activities of a vital police force. THE VIGILANTES is written testimony to those who put their lives on the line every day for the public they serve.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on August 10, 2010