Title: The Doll Maker (Jessica Balzano & Kevin Byrne #8)
Author: Richard Montanari
Genres: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Length: 496 pages
Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano investigate the murder of pre-teen Nicole, posed in a fresh painted bench. Soon, more children are found murdered and posed, along with mysterious looking dolls. As the investigation proceeds, the detectives find all sort of macabre clues and links to other cases left unsolved.
Even though I love crime investigation shows – my personal favourite being Criminal Minds(and I even recall a similar themed episode!) – for some reason I was never attracted to books of this genre. I guess I prefer more quick closure, I don’t know. The fact is I felt that I needed to catch a breather from the genres I usually gravitate towards and, after reading Lynn’s review of this book, and looking at that gorgeous cover (shallow, I know!!), I ended up requesting this from Netgalley. The reading experience was different, for sure.
Even though it is the 8th in a series, it works just as well as a standalone. We get to know a bit of the two detectives and that was good enough for me.
The author obviously performed a thorough investigation for the subjects addressed in the book – I particularly liked the bit about calligraphy. However, it also caused me to feel that the book dragged on in some parts, particularly the ones explaining police procedures and some scene descriptions; it struck me as info dumping, and I can see why other readers skimmed through large sections of the book. I just wanted it to move on to juicy parts, you know? Not necessarily action packed but just more exciting.
There were a few things I tended to see repeated that, personally, I didn’t enjoy much but didn’t cause a dent in my enjoyment of the book, like the good question pat on the back from the different units agents involved in the investigation and certain expressions like not the least of them (…) or some variation.
The story itself is quite eerie. To be frank, when I first read the prologue and the first two chapters I felt I was reading three different books – but then it all came together. In those first two, when murders are being committed, the imagery is vivid and gruesome. Then it tones out on the gore side for the rest of the book and focuses more on the psychological/psychopathic aspect. You see, the perps have a language and world concept of their own. They are so scary because they are able to hide in plain sight and even sound adorable and those are the worst type of criminals in my book – you would never say they are, well, evil. It was very interesting and engaging and creepy all at once.
On the other hand, the detectives are real people with real and even ordinary issues and that allowed me to connect with them. And they actually follow procedures and they don’t engage romantically! That was so refreshing and made everything more real.
A couple of things I remember at the moment of not finding very believable or wanting better explained:
I am not sure how viable it is to be able to pull up a 15 year old print from such a small object, particularly one who had to have been handled by several people since then (they were in foster care, after all).
I also wish I had known how Valerie and the kids got money in the first place – that lifestyle had to be expensive. I thought I read that Valerie’s aunt didn’t have much after her stardom came to an end and no jobs were mentioned that I can recall (I only remember groceries being explained).
I wish I had gotten to know a bit more about the development of Mr Marseille’s skills, like with car theft for instance. It is clear that he was the mastermind behind everything, after all, and I would have love to find out how he came to be who he was.
I still don’t get if Anabelle and Mr Marseilles really were brother and sister. We are told they are the same age and might look similar enough to be siblings, but don’t really look like twins.
And finally, I would like to know who were the other 8 victims, since the numbers on the victims’ scalps started at 9. Were they all children? If so, this twisted game started a while before…
All in all, I had a very good time reading this. The last 25% or so was much faster paced and I was really engaged. The two main villains chilled my bones. I don’t know who scared me the most – Mr Marseilles with his ruthlessness or Anabelle being so cut out from the real world and her past. I think one of the things that impressed me the most, besides their platonic love towards each other, was that they were so young. It put me off in the beginning, particularly because of the language they used, such controlled behaviour and sophistication of the crimes (I think part of me still wishes they had been older), but the fact is the story flowed well and I got plenty of closure in the end.
I recommend The Doll Maker to all fans of crime novels and psychological thrillers.
Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Read from April 25 to 28, 2015