THE SECRET FRIEND - Chris Mooney
THE SECRET FRIEND is a contemporary American crime fiction thriller. A serial killer with their own desperate and cruel background. A religious element. A corrupt ex-FBI agent. A bad cop. And a CSI - Darby McCormick - as the central protagonist. Darby is pulled into the case of Emma Hale and finds herself up against a lot of things. There's the lack of evidence or an explanation for why somebody would have snatched Emma, kept her alive for months, and then killed her. There's Emma's powerful and wealthy father who wants answers enough to run his own investigation. There's the second student dead in similar circumstances and it's obvious that this killer is not going to stop unless he's caught. There's the either incompetent or corrupt police force that haven't been able to solve the case. There's a pushy and politically motivated senior officer. And finally, there's the lurking presence of the FBI agent gone bad - the vigilante fugitive from law, taking the law into his own hands.
THE SECRET FRIEND may appeal to a particular type of reader. Fans or believers in CSI's actively investigating cases and those interested in the "technical wizardry" that goes along with crime scene analysis. There are certainly snippets of technical information sprinkled through the book which show the depth of the research or knowledge that went into the writing. To help widen the possible appeal, you've got all these other elements built in - the rogue FBI guy with the astounding connections - inexplicably one step ahead of the cops and Darby all the way; the corrupt cop; the serial killer who may just engender sympathy in some readers; the lurking presence of the closed down institution - where all too many horrible events could have occurred.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if this book doesn't appeal to many readers, but for me it was too much. Whilst it was competently written, the main sub-plot, the rogue ex-FBI agent, just didn't work for me and as he got more and more focus, I got less and less interested. The serial killer's motivations and behaviour seemed to have some potential, but they don't remain the main focus of the book and kept getting lost in the other sub-plots and the snippets of forensic information that were packed in.
When Judith Chen is found floating in Boston's harbour, links are made with the murder of Emma Hale, a student who vanished without trace, only for her body to wash up months later.
CSI Darby McCormick is assigned to the case and uncovers a piece of overlooked evidence from the Hale investigation - which brings her into contact with Malcolm Fletcher, a former FBI agent now on the Most Wanted List after a string of bloody murders And when a third student goes missing, Darby is led into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with deadly links to the past - and a man who speaks to the Blessed Virgin. A man who wants to be a secret friend to the girls he abducts.