Having recently read the first book in the DCI Erica Foster series, The Girl in the Ice, I was very much looking forward to reading The Night Stalker, by Robert Bryndza, and I wasn’t disappointed. Whereas the events in the first novel took place in the cold of winter, the ones portrayed in this instalment take place against a steaming London summer, which for some reason ratchets up the tension as normally closed doors and windows are left ajar to admit any cool air circulating – only, for some people and houses, it’s not just a breeze they allow to enter.
Summoned to the death of a doctor, who is found tied to his bed and with a plastic bag over his head, Erica can find no motive for his grisly death except perhaps the vague link of a gay hate crime which some of those at the station appear eager to claim. However, when a second body is found days later, killed in an identical fashion, she knows not only is a dangerous individual at large, but whoever it is, he or she is stalking the victims, waiting for the right moment to strike…Erica and her team must uncover the perpetrator before more people die.
With the anniversary of her husband, Mark’s death looming, and her personal and professional relationships and reputation suffering, Erica lets her defences down. She not only has a close encounter with the stalker, but also places herself and her friends in grave danger. But it’s when her old nemesis reappears and threatens to curb Erica’s instincts before calling her judgement to account, that she’s forced to take a perilous path.
From the first page, the novel launches straight into the action and allows the reader, once again, to follow the perspectives of both the killer and law enforcement, the gap between the two closing as the case gains momentum. My only criticism of this novel, and it was the same for the one before, is that Erica not only tends to repeat social and work-related mistakes that see her hauled over the coals, sometimes without justification, but in both books she appears to be unjustly punished and in an identical fashion. When it happened again in this novel, it was hard to suspend disbelief.
Still, this is a very well-written book with great characters, and a mostly tight plot. It’s hard not to champion Erica and want to see her succeed; there is something real, vulnerable and compelling about her. She is loyal to a fault and if she is sometimes myopic when it comes to her work, it’s only because she cares about what she does and feels she has to somehow compensate for past critical errors. I hope the direction the books seem to be taking indicate better outcomes for this strong female character – professionally and personally.