Jonathan Santlofer has hit upon an interesting concept,
combining visuals and narrative to create novels that are not quite
graphic works yet are more than text supplemented with
illustrations. He actually incorporates his artwork into the
storyline, which works very well in ANATOMY OF FEAR.
Santlofer's fourth novel introduces Nate Rodriguez --- former New
York City street cop, current police sketch artist, and son of a
deceased NYPD narcotics officer killed in the line of duty.
Rodriguez has an uncanny ability to produce amazingly lifelike
drawings of unknown subjects, combining his innate talent with a
gentle but firm witness-questioning technique. Terri Russo, an NYPD
homicide detective, brings Rodriguez into an investigation
involving a series of brutal homicides in which the killer leaves a
drawing of the murder at the scene of the crime. Rodriguez is a
natural for the case, as he is able to intuit elements from the
drawings that a non-artist might miss. He must slowly come to grips
with the fact that he possesses a sixth sense enabling him to see
beyond that which is on the printed page.
Santlofer avoids the easy temptation of turning Rodriguez into
Houdini; his visions, if you will, are imperfect, imprecise and
only lead him in a certain direction rather than provide him with
complete answers. Rodriguez is also assisted by his grandmother, a
Santerian practitioner who almost functions as a deus ex
machina as Rodriguez closes in on the killer.
Santlofer brings a number of interesting elements to the table
here, including Rodriguez's mixed-race heritage (Jewish and Puerto
Rican), the simmering attraction between Rodriguez and Russo, and
the description of Santerian rituals, including one in which
Rodriguez is a reluctant participant. While Santlofer's plotting
isn't perfect, his illustrations, which intermittently pepper the
text, make up for any deficiencies, as they flow with the narrative
rather than interrupt it. Santlofer is a highly respected artist in
his own right, and the concept behind the book, as executed here,
raises this work beyond the level of an interesting novelty.
The conclusion of ANATOMY OF FEAR leaves the door open for a
sequel, which undoubtedly would expose more people to Santlofer's
art, both written and graphic.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010