Gregg Olsen is reliably terrifying. There is no other way to describe his work. Having honed his considerable writing chops in the true crime genre, he began concentrating on fiction, undoubtedly inspired by the truism that “if one can think of it, someone else has already done it.” Olsen’s novels, which deal almost exclusively with serial killers, are an annually anticipated gore fest that, fortunately for the discerning reader, are equally balanced with sharp plotting and --- as one might expect from the topic --- unforgettable and over-the-top characters.
"Though a work of fiction, FEAR COLLECTOR is built upon the meticulous research that has become a trademark of Olsen’s true crime works, and is all the more frightening for it."
FEAR COLLECTOR is Olsen’s latest book and arguably his most terrifying, primarily because it slides into and out of the real world to a degree that none of his other works of fiction have. While many novels deal with the effects of a criminal act, or a series thereof, this one is all about the influence such actions occasion decades after the fact. Here Olsen uses Ted Bundy, contemporary America’s most notorious serial killer, as his catalyst, to grand and frightening effect.
While Bundy is an ominous and posthumous shadow who casts darkness over the events in FEAR COLLECTOR from beginning to end, it is Tacoma police detective Grace Alexander who is the primary focus of the narrative. Grace’s sister, Tricia, went missing during the apex of Bundy’s strange and bizarre reign of terror. Grace had not even been born when Tricia disappeared, and Tricia’s absence has affected nearly every moment of her upbringing as well as her relationship with her mother. While one of the best at what she does, Grace is also obsessed with her missing sister. And while Tricia was considered to be one of Bundy’s victims --- an accusation that Bundy denied --- such was never conclusively proven.
When young women begin to go missing in the Tacoma area again --- and are later found, mutilated, in remote areas --- it seems as if Bundy has returned from the dead and resumed his inexplicably evil ways. Grace, of course, knows that Bundy’s return is an impossibility; she races against an ever-ticking clock to bring the killer to justice in the hope that she might rescue the latest missing victim. There is also the possibility, though, that at last she might obtain the answer to the mystery of her sister’s disappearance, providing some closure for her mother and herself. What Grace eventually discovers is that the present-day murders and Tricia’s decades-old disappearance are indeed linked by an unexpected and dangerous individual who no one would expect otherwise.
Though a work of fiction, FEAR COLLECTOR is built upon the meticulous research that has become a trademark of Olsen’s true crime works, and is all the more frightening for it. He continues to tap new veins from a familiar mine. And more is coming, if you had any doubt. The book also includes a generously-sized novelette entitled “The Bone Box,” which features Birdy Waterman, a forensic expert who will figure in Olsen’s future works. That inclusion gives readers two reasons to digest one great book.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 4, 2013