‘A catchy name is all it takes to turn a local case into a national sensation. Within hours, all the channels were calling him the same thing: The Countdown Killer.’
Elle Castillo was once a social worker who helped children who were the victims of violent crime. These days, she is the host of a popular true crime podcast, Justice Delayed, tackling cold cases involving missing children in Minnesota. After four seasons of successfully solving cold cases, Elle decides to return to the past, to a case that haunts her: The Countdown Killer.
The Countdown Killer has never been caught. After establishing a pattern of taking and ritualistically murdering three girls over a seven-day period, the murderer stopped. Each victim was a year younger: the eleventh and youngest victim was eleven years old.
A listener phones Elle with a tip. She heads out to interview him and discovers his dead body. Who murdered him, and why? And what information did he have? Days later, another girl is abducted. Is the Countdown Killer at work again? The police do not think so, but Elle is does. And an abduction close to home has Elle feeling responsible.
There is plenty of tension in this debut novel by Amy Suiter Clarke, a Melbourne-based author. While a couple of procedural aspects seemed unlikely to me (because of the potential for conflicts of interest) this never worried me enough to take me out of the story. Elle takes risks as she tries to find answers: her feelings of responsibility, of guilt, seem to overwhelm her judgement at times.
There’s a lot of information to process, plenty of characters to remember and a couple of improbabilities to digest, and a satisfying ending.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.