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Issue Date: March 2009

Reviews | Books

Serial killers apprentice
The Serial Killer’s Apprentice by James Renner
(Gray & Co., $14.95)
A prosecutor who took a day off and never returned, a young man dead from a nine-story fall, a human skull found in a woods in Westlake — each story in James Renner’s new book, The Serial Killer’s Apprentice, takes the imagination to a dark and chilling place.

Renner, aScene staff writer, has specialized in crime reporting since writingAmy: My Search for her Killer, a book about the 1989 murder of 10-year-old Amy Mihaljevic. This, his second book, shows off his talents in the genre: an investigator’s persistence, a strong sense of mystery-suspense storytelling and a direct and

restrained style that can both pull back to describe a crime scene and turn sympathetic to illuminate victims’ vibrant but lost lives.

He candidly describes some of his exciting (but ultimately dead-end) hunches — at one point, he even wonders if local bank robber Ted Conrad was D.B. Cooper, the legendary cash-toting hijacker.Renner’s writing is gripping, well researched and hard to put down, but readers should add a dose of skepticism.
Erick Trickey
Badlands Badlands by Richard Montanari
(Ballatine Books, $26)

If the past three books from Cleveland native Richard Montanari have told us anything, it’s that Philadelphia is full of serial killers, so stay as far away from there as possible — unless you’re really craving a cheesesteak.

His latest thriller, Badlands, once again depicits a city of anything but brotherly love. Detectives Byrne and Balzano are back on the case, this time working with the Special Investigations Unit in an effort to decipher a killer’s demented puzzles. The two are led into the depths of Philadelphia’s Badlands, a district known for its drug-related violence, after uncovering some disturbing clues surrounding the death of a runaway girl.

Montanari invites his readers to solve the puzzles alongside the book’s protagonists as they investigate gory crime scenes. His affinity for storytelling offers a steady flow of surprises, including a hidden romance. Fair warning, though: You may experience plotline déjà vu — those who have seen the 1995 serial-killer movie Seven will notice the two stories tread a similar path.
Matt Beargie
The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak
(Bantam Dell, $12)

The world gets a little smaller in Christopher Barzak’s second novel. Through narratives of love, depression, obsession and, above all, loneliness, the Youngstown native explores the ways in which we may unknowingly influence the lives of others.

Set in present-day Japan, each chapter introduces a new story line that at first seems to have no connection to the one before it. But it soon becomes apparent that the choice one character makes at the start of the book determines the life of another.

That ripple effect leads to unexpected connections between a suicide pact, a sex-crazed musician who goes blind, Americans who move to Japan to teach English and a man kidnapped by his gay lover.

Barzak does a beautiful job weaving suspense into each vignette, leaving readers eager to learn not only how the characters will develop, but also how their stories are interconnected.
Beth Stallings

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