One part Dean Koontz’s Intensity and another M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense would be the closest approximation of Karen Robards‘ The Last Victim. What appears to be just another textbook police procedural slash serial killer hunt is in fact a serial killer hunt cum ghost story. The opening scene takes us back to the most traumatic night of Charlotte Stone’s life. At a sleepover 16 year old Charlie Stone is in her friends basement casting up that night’s alcohol laced purple kool-aid, which ironically saves her life. Unbeknownst to Charlie and her friend Holly a predator has broken into the house.
A sought-after expert in criminal pathology, Dr. Charlotte Stone regularly sits face-to-face with madmen. At the age of sixteen, she herself survived a serial killer’s bloodbath. Because of the information she gave police, the Boardwalk Killer went underground, but Charlie kept her postmortem visions of the victims to herself. Years later, to protect her credibility as a psychological expert, she tells no one about these apparitions. Now a teenage girl is missing, her family slaughtered. The Boardwalk Killer—or a sick copycat with his M.O.—is back. This is the one case Charlie knows she shouldn’t go near. But she also knows that she may be the one person in the world who can stop this vicious killer, especially when she receives help from an unexpected source: The fiery spirit of a seductive bad boy who refuses to be ignored.
The Last Victim resumes more than a decade following the Boardwalk Killers’ killing spree that left her the as the only survivor. It could be argued that Dr. Charlotte Stone has not exactly put her violent past behind her, she is now a criminal psychologist specializing in serial killers. Her field of study has her in a prison placement studying an all too charming convicted killer Michael Garland. It is at this point that the plot diverges wildly from most of Ms Robards other work. She has touched on the supernatural before in novels like Superstition but never to the degree as The Last Victim. When their meeting is interrupted by the FBI, Garland is attacked by another prisoner and dies in Charlie’s arms if this wasn’t alarming enough the purpose of the visit from the Bureau would be. They are looking for Charlie’s help in apprehending a serial killer one whose M.O. is identical to that of the Boardwalk Killer.
Unfortunately Dr. Charlotte Stone is a somewhat unremarkable character but you are completely disarmed by the dead antihero who refuses to be vanquished. As the first of a series perhaps Ms Robards can be forgiven the somewhat one dimensional characters of Charlie and team lead Tony Bartoli and hope that with time they will catch up with the roguish Garland in The Last Kiss Goodbye. Reviews of this novel seem to fall into one of two camps, those who love First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones, which also features a heroine named Charley who sees ghosts, and hate The Last Victim and those like me who couldn’t finish FGOTR for the life of them and those who really enjoyed The Last Victim.
AUTHOR: Karen Robards
RATING: 3 1/2 Stars