Formats available: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Series: Forensic Instincts #3
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Date Released: September 24, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
It begins with a chilling phone call to Casey Woods. And ends with another girl dead.
College-age girls with long red hair. Brutally murdered, they’re posed like victims in a film noir. Each crime scene is eerily similar to the twisted fantasy of a serial offender now serving thirty years to life—a criminal brought to justice with the help of Forensic Instincts.
Call. Kill. Repeat. But the similarities are more than one psychopath’s desire to outdo another. As more red-haired victims are added to the body count, it becomes clear that each one has been chosen because of a unique connection to Casey—a connection that grows closer and closer to her.
Now the Forensic Instincts team must race to uncover the identity of a serial killer before his ever-tightening circle of death closes in on Casey as the ultimate target. As the stalker methodically moves in on his prey, his actions make one thing clear: he knows everything about Casey. And Casey realizes that this psychopathic won’t stop until he makes sure she’s dead.
The title is a clue. It’s also a double play on words, both that the killer is a stranger that Casey Woods knows, and that people are often stranger than anyone can know. In this particular instance, quite a bit stranger.
Also this third case that the Forensic Instincts team is investigating (after their awesome beginning in The Girl Who Disappeared Twice and equally compelling followup The Line Between Here and Gone) the two cases that the team is investigating are both about a stranger, and about someone that team leader Casey Woods knew all too well.
The kidnapping, rape and murder of her best friend 15 years ago was the impetus for Casey’s founding of Forensic Instincts in the first place. It may also be linked to the cold case that a dying father has asked them to re-open.
But when a serial rapist and murderer starts taunting Casey on the phone, linking new crimes to her past and to a psychopath definitely behind bars, the team scrambles to figure out what the link is between a prisoner supposedly without privileges and a killer who is definitely on the loose. Both of whom want revenge on Casey and are determined to torment her by killing an ever-tightening circle of women who look just like her.
The tension ratchets up higher and higher as the team brings all of their formidable talents to bear on catching the killers; while the shadowy assailant continues to stay one step ahead of them and his motive remains unknown.
Just when it seems that they have finally caught a break in the cold cases, they discover that they have only played into the hands of a convicted serial murder.
Escape Rating A-: What makes the Forensic Instincts series so awesome is the team dynamic. Although this case turns out to be about Casey Woods and her past, the way it gets solved requires the talents of every member of the FI team, except possibly the dog.
The FI team is an absolutely marvelous example of the “Five-Man Band trope”. (See tvtropes.org for complete explanation) If you have never previously delved into tvtropes, be prepared to lose at least an evening.
The story in Stranger is primarily of the suspense/thriller type. The reader follows the team and they solve the puzzle. We don’t know anything until they do. We might guess, but we don’t know, although we do get a couple of extra clues that they don’t, which is what separates this story from a true mystery.
Nevertheless, this is a chilling tale. We spend time following the thought processes of a serial killer and rapist as he self-aggrandizes and justifies his crimes. It’s ugly and so is he.
But it’s absolutely fascinating to watch the team solve the puzzle. The psychopath is one step ahead of them all the way, until the very end. Good triumphs over evil, but the cost is shown to be very, very high.
The ending packs one hell of a jolt.