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At the stroke of madness is Alex Kava's fourth novel all of which contain her main character Maggie O'Dell, Maggie is a thirty something FBI profiler who has an ability to get into the mind of the serial killer and predict who they are and where. Maggie is divorced in this novel, though in the first novel she's happily married, the books have progressed through her split up and divorce. Maggie is interested in a Boston area sheriff called Nick but they have yet to really become an item.
Maggie is part of the FBI profilers teams and is partnered with RJ Tully whose very much her opposite, he's solid dependable and though he has different methods often gets to the same conclusion as Maggie. Its usally at this point that the two start to fall out as RJ tends to wait for support whereas Maggie jumps straight in. RJ is also divorced and has a 15 year old daughter who gives the novels a comedy edge, with the bumbling dad proving to be totally uncool. Except when he meets any of his daughters boy admirers who find his job as a FBI profiler totally cool, his daughter has a habit of changing her mind about her dad. I wonder if Alex has a teenage daughter (though the author is a women).
The other main character is Maggies older friend Gwen Pattinson, she's a psychiatrist who is in the books mainly as a friend for Gwen but does have an interest in her cases as she wants to understand the criminal mind. she's a few years older than Gwen, in her late thirties but a few years younger than RJ whose in his mid forties, she's beautiful and flirtatious and RJ and her have had a few romantic moments.
The novels tend to be quite explicit in their depictions about sex, and the association between sex and murder. The second novel Split Second was particularly vivid in its depictions of sexually frustrated men and how they prey on young vulnerable women. The third novel has a corrupt religious leader as its main focus and I can't tell you about the first novel as I havent read it yet (its been ordered).
When a clearance man is removing some old barrels from a piece of wasteland in a small town in Coneecticut he comes across body parts and soon it becomes clear that a serial killer has been collecting bodies for some grisly reason. Maggie has been asked by Gwen to travel to the area to look into the disappearance of one of her clients, a middle aged women who has vanished from her hotel room after leaving an odd message.
In some ways this novel works best as a murder mystery, the two novels I've read had fairly well defined killer patterns, i.e., the sexually frustratrated psychopath and the decadent deluded corrupt religious fanatic but here the killer has a less well defined but for more macabre reason for killing. the killer also doesn't discriminate and will kill both male and females, something which has been lacking in the previous novels. Again as with her previous novels the killer has a role in the book, but as with the Soul catcher, the identity is unknown right up till the end of the book.
Maggie and RJ are now becoming well defined but the writing is engaging, yes she uses the short chapter tenchique, sometmes as little as one page but her writing sklls make this work rather than just as a tool to read the next chapter. The book shows us a more personal side to some of the characters then we'd seen before, indeed one of the lead investigators fathers is one of the people who found the bodies in the old factory.
Maggie is the main character and in some hands I suspect her story might get bogged down with her need to be a person again after the Albert Stucky case (Split second) and her divorce. The characterisation could have become dry and pedantic but the introduction of RJ gives a more rounded feel to the characters and he comes across as a man who like many doubt there abilities in a complex world.
Saying that the star of the book is with out doubt Luc Racine, the father of Detective Racine who Maggie clashed with in the previous novel. He's got early onset alzheimers but makes the book warm, human and compassionate and reveals a side to his daughters character we missed in the previous novel.
I'm increasingly enjoying Alex Kava's novels are being a little hesitant because of the graphic nature of the killing in Split Second but this novel shows a more mature confident writer whose willing to place her grisly murders in unexpected places and have unexpected outcomes. Thankfully she's toned down the sex and murder aspect and concentrated on some good old fashioned macabre killing.
One slight quibble is the length, the previous novels are well over 350 pages but this one is only about 220. Don't know why but it felt light compared to the others, but the story fit the length so I'll not be too critical however I have noticed her next novel doesn't concern Maggie and her team so maybe she was a bit short of ideas and wanted time to think about future plot twists?