Review

The Murder Notebook

by Jonathan Santlofer

The
metropolitan area in which I live is blessed with a college of art
and design that, over the past 20 or so years, has acquired a fine
national reputation. Lately, business matters have taken me past
the school frequently. I have noticed during the course of each
trip that a number of students have been carrying ANATOMY OF FEAR
by Jonathan Santlofer. It is not surprising; in that fine novel
Santlofer performed a fascinating interweaving of art and dialogue,
making the art an integral part of the story. He performs similar
magic, arguably on an even greater scale, in his latest work of
fiction, THE MURDER NOTEBOOK.

While this is a sequel to ANATOMY OF FEAR, one can read it without
having any familiarity with its predecessor. Santlofer does a fine
job of filling the new reader in with respect to what has gone
before in the life of NYPD sketch artist Nate Rodriguez. His
creation is possessed of an uncanny, almost supernatural ability to
bring out the best in witnesses --- including, at one point,
himself --- and bringing their observations to the page. Rodriguez
is also a gifted facial constructionist, and as THE MURDER NOTEBOOK
begins, he is tasked with attempting to recreate the face of an
arson victim. He is quickly shifted to another task, however, as he
is called upon to sketch the face of a suspect being sought in
connection with a particularly brutal and apparently random murder.
When another such killing occurs, followed by a spectacular
suicide, Rodriguez senses a nexus among all of the deaths, even
though he cannot identify it.

Terri Russo, Rodriguez’s paramour and fellow police officer,
is heading up the team to which Rodriguez is assigned. While she is
behind his intuitive curve, she remains --- how shall I put this?
--- skeptically open-minded about his hunches, slow to come around
but willing to go with the flow at full throttle once she is
convinced. The investigation and the sudden mysterious involvement
of federal law enforcement put a strain on their relationship, even
as it appears that Rodriguez himself is being targeted by whoever
is ultimately behind the mayhem occurring on the streets of New
York.

As the investigation resumes, Rodriguez has been continuing the
facial reconstruction to which he was originally assigned on his
own time at his own expense, little knowing that his work is the
first step in resolving one of the major conflicts of his life. Yet
both investigations pale when compared to what ultimately awaits
Rodriguez, and the reader, at the conclusion of THE MURDER
NOTEBOOK.

Santlofer’s writing and plotting abilities have improved
since ANATOMY OF FEAR --- a great read in its own right --- and are
nicely counterpointed in THE MURDER NOTEBOOK by his artwork, which
again advances the story and narrative. His sketches are stark and
deceptively simple (no four-color plates here), but they are
infused with a haunting realism that attracts the reader’s
attention and interest, even while they occasionally make
one’s skin quietly crawl. Upon completion of the book, I
found myself going back and looking at the drawings more than once,
particularly the author’s renderings of the stages of
Rodriguez’s facial reconstruction models.

I would recommend that those students I mentioned --- and everyone
else --- make room in their backpacks for THE MURDER
NOTEBOOK.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 7, 2011

The Murder Notebook
by Jonathan Santlofer

  • Publication Date: June 3, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0060882042
  • ISBN-13: 9780060882044