Has Manhattan ever really been safe for young women out alone and drunk in the early hours of the morning? At one time the answer may have been yes. But in today’s world? No! In Alafair Burke’s ANGEL’S TIP, homicide detective Ellie Hatcher is called upon to investigate the gruesome murder of an Indiana college student on spring break. She was out alone and drunk in the early hours of the morning.
Ellie is the only woman on the homicide team and has been there for just a few weeks. But in that time she has become a minor celebrity, which has not endeared her to her co-workers, especially since her first partner is dead and her lieutenant is openly hostile. Her “colleagues” are either nasty or ignore her completely. But she’s the detective on site that morning. She had caught the case and is going to do everything she can to hold on to it, with her new partner, Jeffrey James Rogan.
New York City is a magnet for tourists like Jordan McLaughlin, Stephanie Hyder and Chelsea Hart, three college students on break from Indiana University. Stephanie and Chelsea grew up together and were still best friends. But on their last night in the city, “Stephanie sensed that Chelsea’s inner wild child was determined to come out and play. It started with the slutty outfit, then continued at the dive Italian restaurant,” when Chelsea went into “flirt alert,” “fabricating a farcical autobiography the way she always did in these situations.”
From there, they hit a club called Pulse, in the Meatpacking District near the West Village. Thanks to their fake driver’s licenses and Chelsea’s megawatt smile, they were granted entry immediately. Stephanie watched her friends get drunk but had no luck trying to persuade them to leave right away. They had an early flight home in the morning, and it was time to call it a night. Chelsea didn’t agree, and after some negotiation, she promised to take a taxi back to the hotel in plenty of time to get to the airport. Stephanie was unhappy leaving Chelsea behind and uneasy about how their vacation seemed to be ending.
When Chelsea’s body is found, she becomes a “helpless victim,” and it is up to Ellie and JJ to track down her killer. Things begin to move quickly when they find Chelsea’s room key, which leads them to the hotel where the group had stayed. Ellie finds Stephanie and Jordan in the lobby, crying and apparently arguing. She approaches them gingerly, and soon they are talking about their missing friend using the present tense. Later, Ellie tells them about the dead body that resembles Chelsea, and she knows that when the tears stop flowing, these girls will never be the same.
Like homicide cops would do anywhere, they launch a massive investigation. One lead takes them nowhere, while another isn’t immediately recognized as the key to the puzzle. Detectives talk to witnesses and to each other, and eavesdrop at their desks as a matter of course. A word, a name, a time frame mentioned in passing can blast a case wide open. On the other hand, no amount of time or investigative skills can solve every case. These cold cases remain isolated in the bowels of the station house or in the files facility, until or if someone asks to see them. Sometimes, after years of inactivity, an unexpected lead comes in and suddenly the cold case and the current case merge, then trails burn hot.
One phone call from the father of a victim whose murderer was never caught shifts the Chelsea Hart case into a whole new dimension. One savvy detective finds a clue that can put a number of cases to rest if the team works quickly. In ANGEL’S TIP, Alafair Burke has not only framed a complicated story, she has done it in a way that captures the reader’s attention on page one. Her skill with language makes for fast-paced reading, and her ability to populate her novels with “real” people adds verisimilitude to all of the action.
ANGEL’S TIP is a chillingly timely book in the wake of the number of young college-age women all over the country who have gone missing and have later been found murdered. These cases hover in the background and appear to serve as the inspiration for this novel. From that perspective, ANGEL’S TIP is most certainly a cautionary tale.
This is the second appearance by Ellie Hatcher, following DEAD CONNECTION, and of her Burke says, “Now an NYPD detective, Hatcher grew out of what I learned about police when I was a Deputy District Attorney. Having written about criminal cases from the perspective of a prosecutor, I was ready to write about police, the burden they carry, and their unique culture.” And, as a teacher of criminal law at Hofstra University, she sees young women like Chelsea Hart every day.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on December 22, 2010