Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope is an interesting twist on the serial killer/tracker story. In a lot of books about FBI agents tracking serial killers, the agents seem to have a sixth sense that allows them to anticipate the killers actions. In Collecting the Dead, FBI tracker Magnus “Steps” Craig actually does have a sixth sense. Steps can see an aura left behind by both the killer and the victims.
Kope has come up with an interesting ability here to imbue his main character with. It’s obviously a useful tool, but it’s not a superpower and it must be used in concert with other skills and team members in order to be truly useful. Steps and his partner Jimmy Donovan, himself a skilled agent and profiler, make a great team here, along with the supporting characters and setup of this one-of-a-kind tracking unit. Steps power also comes with some side effects and the work he and his team does leaves its own set of emotional scars.
A serial killer who leaves depictions of sad faces behind at his murder scenes is the main antagonist in this book. The fact that he doesn’t kill his victims right away keeps a sense of urgency running throughout the book. Steps and Jimmy have a lot of legwork to do in tracking down this killer, and even more work in trying to anticipate his next move and save his most recent victim. Collecting the Dead is filled with strong supporting characters, both in Step’s and Jimmy’s personal lives, their Washington state based tracking unit, and the various other law enforcement agencies they work with.
Kope’s writing has a fluidity to it that a lot of first time novels lack. The characters are relatable and have an easy camaraderie and a sense of humor that hovers somewhere between chuckle and groan. The story moves along at a steady pace and keeps the pages turning. Along with the sad face killer, there’s another killer from Steps’ past that hangs around the fringes of the story and remains at large at the conclusion.
Collecting the Dead is an outstanding introduction to a new character and new series. Spencer Kope has found something new to say in a genre where it is easier to blend in than to stand out. There is always room for a good story told well. Expect to see more of both Spencer Kope and Steps Craig. Highly recommended.
I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.
Description: Magnus "Steps" Craig is part of the elite three-man Special Tracking Unit of the FBI. Called in on special cases where his skills are particularly needed, he works as a tracker. The media dubs him "The Human Bloodhound," since Steps is renowned for his incredible ability to find and follow trails over any surface better than anyone else. But there's a secret to his success. Steps has a special ability---a kind of synesthesia---where he can see the 'essence' of a person, something he calls 'shine,' on everything they've touched. His ability is known to only a few people---his father, the director of the FBI, and his partner, Special Agent Jimmy Donovan.
When the remains of a murdered woman are found, Steps recognizes the shine left by the murderer from another crime scene with a physically similar victim. And he uncovers the signature at both scenes---the mark of a sad face. At the same time, another killer, one Steps has dubbed Leonardo and has been trying to track for over ten years, appears again, taunting Steps. But while Steps tries to find a clue that will lead him to Leonardo, the case of the Sad Face Killer heats up. The team uncovers eleven possible victims: missing women who fit the same pattern. Using his skill and the resources of the Bureau, it is a race against time to find the killer before it's too late.