I'm a total bookworm and will happily read any genre of fiction but I do have a particular penchant for heart-stopping, grisly crime novels. Every time we walk past The Works, I have to go in and pick up a bundle of books in their 3-for-£5 section and Chris Mooney's The Soul Collectors was one of my latest buys.
The Soul Collectors is the fourth Darby McCormick novel but you can still enjoy it as a standalone novel. In fact, you might enjoy it even more if you haven't read the others, because I have read one of them - The Missing, the first in the series (click through to read my review) - and I found it unlikely and unrealistic that the same cop would be kidnapped and imprisoned by another serial killer and still get out alive. I'm not sure if this is the basic premise for each of the other novels in the series, but it makes it all a bit predictable and less convincing.
Darby McCormick is summed up by one of her less politically-correct colleagues in the book as Rambo with tits. She's one tough cookie, highly trained in combat skills and an expert in forensic investigations. She knows how to get into the minds of serial killers and kidnap victims because she was targetted by one such psychopath, dubbed The Traveller, when she was a teenager (vaguely mentioned in this book and described in more detail in The Missing). She seems to have more lives than a whole litter of proverbial cats and can come out of gunfights, explosions and armed combat with barely a scratch.
In The Soul Collectors, Darby is summoned to a hostage situation, along with a SWAT team, by the man with a gun, claiming to be Charlie Rizzo, a child kidnap victim from some twenty years ago, holding his own family at gunpoint, and requesting to speak to Darby. Darby remembers the kidnap but it's hard to tell if it is really Charlie or not because his face has been replaced by a hideous mask made out of human skin. Before she can get to the bottom of things, the SWAT team burst into the house, shooting the entire family at close range and leaving Darby for dead.
Despite being on a suspension from Boston PD, Darby can't let it go and delves deeper and deeper into the case, uncovering horrors that even someone with her own past could never imagine. She unearths a sinister religious cult who have kidnapped and tortured hundreds of children, always the youngest sibling in the family, over the past few decades across many states, and it appears that nobody is safe, even within the police and FBI. Darby and her colleagues are soon running for their lives in a deadly cat-and-mouse game but being killed is the least of their worries, because, where these people are involved, there most certainly is a fate worse than death.
It's a dark, nail-biting, fast-paced read that I found unputdownable while I was racing through it, but once I'd finished, I was left feeling slightly unsatisfied on several counts. In many ways, the book leaves you at exactly the same place where it picked you up - Darby's will-they-won't-they romance with her soul mate Coop is still in limbo and, despite resolving a vast number of cold cases, there is no real closure for this killing spree because the criminals go to ground and are still at large, leaving messages for Darby wherever she goes so that she knows she can't escape them, however hard she tries. I've devoured a lot of crime fiction in my time but I've never read a novel with such a high body count (literally in the hundreds so you can't empathise with any of them as individuals) and so many bent cops. The torture and imprisonment scenes are chilling and the descriptions of the perpetrators sometimes shift into the horror genre rather than crime fiction, but I found it less psychologically disturbing or gripping than many other titles that I've read because they were skimmed over. Scenes like the mass grave or the horrific torture amphitheatre at the end were dealt with in just a few short sentences whereas they could have been developed into something much more spine-tingling with greater detail. I also felt that there were a lot of questions left unanswered - we still don't really know who the killers are or why they started, what the significance of the skin face mask or the other mutilations were, the fate of key characters, such as Jack Casey's wife, are left unclear (we know she survives but in what state?) and Charlie's question in the opening pages, about what his "dear" daddy did all those years ago, is still left largely unanswered at the end.
In short, it's an enjoyable read but I did find it a bit samey compared with the other book I've read in the series, and this has left me feeling less inclined to read the others. Darby's character also seemed less convincing this time around because I think it's highly unlikely that one person would get into quite so many life-or-death situations. I'd be willing to read one more book from the series to see if it's as enjoyable as the first one, but as it stands, I was less blown away this time around.
star rating : 3.5/5