C. E. Lawrence is multi-talented. Her abilities in the areas of the stage, both in writing and acting, are well-known and appreciated. She is also garnering quite the reputation as an author of thriller and suspense novels; a reading of SILENT VICTIM, her latest offering, demonstrates why. Lawrence pushes plot and character boundaries to put an entirely new twist on the whole concept of the serial killer.
Lee Campbell, introduced in Lawrence’s debut novel, SILENT SCREAMS, returns in SILENT VICTIM, in which we learn more about his background even as his life, for better or worse, makes forward progress. Campbell is a former practicing psychologist who is now employed as a profiling expert for the NYPD. He is, to put it mildly, a raisin of anxiety, as flawed in his emotions and personality as he is skilled in treating others or in aiding his employer to find violent offenders. It’s fairly easy to discern the root of Campbell’s psychological problems once one is aware of his background. His father left the family when he was just a child; more recently, his sister, married and with a daughter, disappeared without a trace. Campbell experiences emotional breakdowns as well --- some short-term, others somewhat longer in length --- that affect his ability to function. But he’s very good at what he does.
So it is at the commencement of SILENT VICTIM that Campbell is contacted by Ana Watkins, a former patient. Watkins and Campbell almost had an affair while he was treating her --- a serious breach of ethics --- and there are enough residual feelings on his part to make Watkins, who can play people like a Stradivarius, a dangerous presence in his new life. Watkins fears she’s being stalked, but Campbell politely yet firmly dismisses her concerns with the advice that she call the police. He is understandably distressed later when she becomes the latest victim of a killer who is the subject of an ongoing investigation and has claimed two other lives. A cryptic note left with the bodies, along with water, are the elements that link each victim to the others. Campbell, assisting his old friend Chuck Morton and NYPD Detective Leonard Butts, retraces Watkins’s path to her family home in rural New Jersey, where an odd Celtic figure from antiquity seems to provide a further link --- and perhaps a clue --- to the perpetrator’s identity.
Nothing is easy in Campbell’s life, and every element of it has a hidden or deeper meaning. Campbell has a history with Morton’s wife, who seems bent on rekindling it. Butts’s rough-edged demeanor and slovenly appearance hides a keen mind and a sharp talent for discerning observation. Then there’s Elena Krieger, a controversial homicide detective who’s called in to assist Morton and Butts. There are layers to Krieger that only begin to be revealed here. And Campbell? He, of course, is involved with a woman who has even more problems than he does. Matters are made worse by the fact that he’s plagued by a series of anonymous calls from someone who seems to have intimate knowledge of his sister’s disappearance. Still, there’s a murderer stalking the streets of New York. As the novel proceeds, the police come closer and closer to learning the killer’s identity. And much more.
In the final pages of SILENT VICTIM, Lawrence provides surprises and bumps in the night and day, even while assembling a cast of characters who are by turns odd, quirky and memorable. I simply cannot wait for her next book. The story behind that anonymous caller who knows too much about Campbell’s sister would be enough all by itself, but Lawrence’s ability to create flawed and memorable characters and to take a familiar plot in unexpected directions has me hooked.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010