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Book Author: Spencer Kope

SHADOWS OF THE DEAD by Spencer Kope: Book Review

Magnus Craig, known by his nickname “Steps,” has a unique ability, one that sets him apart from other FBI agents who specialize in tracking people.  When Steps was eight years old, he got lost in a blizzard and nearly froze to death.  In fact he was clinically dead, but somehow he was revived; and afterward he was the recipient of either a blessing or a curse, he still hasn’t decided which one.

Steps can see what he calls “shine,” a type of residue that people leave anywhere they walk and on anything they touch.  Like fingerprints or DNA, no two shines are alike, and the only thing that saves him from constant, total overload is that lead-crystal glass blocks almost all shines.  So unless Steps is on a tracking case, he always wears a pair of glasses with the special lenses.

Only three people know about the shine–Steps’ father, his FBI partner Jimmy Donovan, and the director of the Bureau.  His fellow agents simply think he has an uncanny ability to track missing people and criminals regardless of the terrain.  And Steps wants to keep it that way.

In Shadows of the Dead, the third case in the Special Tracking Unit series, a car crash sends the local police into the Washington Olympic Peninsula woods.  When they investigate the crash and open the car’s trunk, they find a gagged and bound woman inside and a man running from the car into a nearby cabin.  That’s when the FBI is called.

The kidnapper is forced out of the cabin after a tear gas canister is flung inside.  When he is handcuffed and led through the woods to a police cruiser, he keeps talking in phrases that the police and federal agents can’t understand.  He calls himself Faceman, says he is a fixer, wonders where “Eight” is, and that “he” is going to be so mad.

When the man is brought to the closest hospital, he makes a reference to Onion King, the person he fears.   The officers realize that the “Eight” that Faceman is referring to is the woman who was in his truck.  That’s when the police and the FBI agents understand  that there must have been seven women previously kidnapped and that the “he” is the Onion King, a serial killer on the loose.

One of the features of Shadows of the Dead that I really enjoyed was the depiction of the close working relationship between the sheriff’s department, local police, and the FBI.  All too often in mystery novels there’s a great deal of jockeying for position and bad feeling among these groups, and it was refreshing to read that the capture of the criminal was paramount in everyone’s mind. 

In addition to writing mysteries, Spencer Kope is a crime analyst in Washington State.  You can read more about him at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


WHISPERS OF THE DEAD by Spencer Kope: Book Review

Edmond Locard was a scientist known as the “French Sherlock Holmes.”  The Locard Exchange Principle states that one who commits a crime leaves something behind at the scene–hair or fabric or (now) DNA–that will connect him to the act.  In Whispers of The Dead, the second in the Magnus “Steps” Craig series, that principle is taken to supernatural ends, as Steps has the ability to find and follow trails that even fellow agents in the FBI’s Special Tracking Unit cannot.

The reason for this skill is known only to three people beside Steps:  his father, his partner Jimmy Donovan, and the head of the FBI.  Steps has a form of synesthesia, an unexplainable ability to see what we might call an “aura” that a person leaves behind.  In other words, if he has an object that was worn by a suspect he can see the person’s aura, or shine as he calls it.  He can follow that shine via footprints or handprints on any place the suspect has touched.

Of course, something so outré, so bizarre, can’t be explained very easily, and trying to would seriously compromise Steps’ place in the Special Tracking Unit.  But it is this ability that has allowed him success after success in finding criminals; the difficult part is to account for how he has found them after other agents or police have not.

Steps and Jimmy are called to investigate a particularly gruesome item left in the living room of a judge’s home in El Paso.  Jonathan Ehrlich’s reputation as a member of the bench is that he unfairly favors the defendant and either dismisses cases that shouldn’t be dismissed or hands down the lightest sentence he can.

So it’s definitely possible that someone is outraged at a decision that Ehrlich made and is showing his displeasure in an especially dramatic way with a Styrofoam box, like those available in every supermarket or big box store to keep items cold, containing a pair of feet, partially frozen and wearing white socks and gray sneakers.

The two agents fly back and forth across the country from Washington to El Paso to Tucson to Albuquerque, investigating two other deaths that involve boxes with similarly gruesome contents.  The killer, now being called The IBK or Ice Box Killer, is on the move and leaving no clue of his identity except for the shine he leaves behind.  And that’s a clue that only Steps can see.

When, if ever, is murder legitimate?  If the law doesn’t mete out what one considers justice, is a person permitted to take things into his own hands?

Spencer Kope now is a crime analyst in Washington State and was formerly an intelligence operations specialist with the office of Naval Intelligence; in the latter position he traveled throughout the world.  Whispers of the Dead is a thriller that will keep you in suspense, reading until the last page explains it all.

You can read more about Spencer Kope at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.