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Alter Ego

Review

Alter Ego

Along the side of a stark and snowy road outside Duluth, Minnesota, a dead body is found inside the front seat of a rented Chevy Impala. The man, known only to authorities as John Doe, was the victim of a freak accident when a deer was struck by another vehicle and hurtled through the windshield of the Impala, killing the occupant instantly.

This is just the first of a number of startling mysteries that erupt throughout Brian Freeman’s terrific thriller, ALTER EGO. This is not a book to be read as much as it is to sink completely into while not coming up for air until the final page is turned. Among its many exciting aspects is that Freeman finally brings together investigators from two of his series: Jonathan Stride and Cab Bolton. To be clear, though, this is a Stride novel with Bolton playing a critical supporting role.

A movie is being shot on location in Duluth. It’s called The Caged Girl, and it’s a retelling of one of Stride's most infamous cases, in which he took down deranged serial killer Art Leipold. While visiting the set of the film, ironically penned by Leipold's son, Chris, Stride is introduced to his alter ego: Hollywood star Dean Casperson. Their first meeting finds the enigmatic Casperson inviting Stride to a party with the cast and crew, which he turns down due to the John Doe investigation. Ironically, Casperson takes Stride's decline “in stride” as he assumes he is talking about the investigation into the film’s missing intern, Haley Adams. Stride confesses that this is the first he has ever heard that name. It won't be the last.

"Freeman has expertly crafted a thriller of the highest order that pits fame against infamy, the past against the present, and truth against lies."

Apparently, the movie has quickly become a magnet for attention as the after-parties are becoming famous among the locals, and a steady stream of attractive young women are seen coming in and out of the various apartments and rented houses of the cast and crew.  When Stride and his team include the missing intern in their investigation, they find that she is not who she claims to be. They also inform Casperson that it appears she may have been spying on him. This piques the interest of Stride and company as they turn their attention to the cast and crew of The Caged Girl, who may not be as innocent as they seem.

This blows the door wide open to discuss a subject matter that is extremely relevant and timely, and makes this story sing that much louder. The “Me Too” movement originated with the voices of several allegedly abused actresses coming forward against their male aggressors. At one point in ALTER EGO, Stride comes to the conclusion that, in Hollywood, even good men make compromises. Everything is a trade-off. Sometimes talent comes with perversions and secrets, and you have to live with it. Stride also learns that his own name attached to the film has made him a celebrity, and being a celebrity means that someone is always out there looking to take you down.

When it turns out that the late John Doe may have been a hired killer who murdered Haley, it is time to send a member of Stride's team down to Florida to find out more about her. Especially when they discover that the real Haley Adams was shot to death in Fort Myers two years earlier. Maggie Bei gets the assignment and meets up with former detective Cab Bolton, who reveals that Haley was actually Peach Piper, a private investigator who was sent to Duluth to find evidence against none other than Dean Casperson. It seems that a string of unexplained murders, mostly of young women, have riddled many of Casperson's films, a fact that has gone all but unannounced. There are several important people in Hollywood who would go to any lengths to protect Casperson, but when the next victim in Duluth turns out to be a 15-year-old girl, the gloves officially come off and the investigation hits high gear.

Meanwhile, the female star of The Caged Girl, Aimee Bowe, is having her own challenges. She is playing the survivor of Leipold's killing spree, Lori Fulkerson. Aimee and the real-life Lori have an intense meeting on set, and not long afterwards things seem to change for the young actress. This all culminates in an attempt on her life that is all-too reminiscent of the other murder victims. But is the attacker connected to the film, or is he just a crazed copycat?

As you can gather, Brian Freeman has to juggle several plotlines and characters in the air --- and I am only skimming the surface with this review in order to preserve many of the terrific secrets that lie within the book. Things abruptly collide from several different and unexpected directions in the last chapters, and I guarantee there are more than a few twists you will not see coming. Freeman has expertly crafted a thriller of the highest order that pits fame against infamy, the past against the present, and truth against lies. ALTER EGO will linger long after the story has ended, and I guarantee it will make you look at your favorite movie stars in a different light.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 4, 2018

Alter Ego
by Brian Freeman

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus
  • ISBN-10: 1681441292
  • ISBN-13: 9781681441290