- Review by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz
Meg Gardiner takes the Zodiac killer into the 21st century with her (frankly) terrifying new thriller, UNSUB. Now represented by Shane Salerno’s Story Factory, Gardner’s already signed a deal with CBS to turn UNSUB into a series, and when you sit down to read this pulse-pounding thriller, you’ll immediately understand why. Gardiner’s escalating violence, well-crafted characters, and creative murder scenes will keep you turning the pages as fast as you can (and staying up later than you should – but hey! It’s summer!).
The start of a new series, UNSUB models its Mercury-obsessed murderer off of one of the most eternally befuddling unsolved killers in US history – the Zodiac Killer. Caitlin Hendrix’s father failed to catch a serial killer known as the Prophet during his time in the force, and now it’s Caitlin’s turn to track down the vicious predator when the Prophet resumes his murderous activity after a twenty year hiatus. Unsure if she’s chasing the original killer or a copycat, Caitlin’s sure of one thing – she was born to solve this case. Hendrix and The Prophet play a game of cat and mouse, switching roles back and forth as the Prophet gets personal with his messages to Caitlin, elevating their relationship to nemesis status and heightening the tension of their inevitable confrontation.
This time, the technology has evolved almost as much as the witness statements. Armed with new information and better weaponry, Caitlin works with her colleagues, her father, and some surprisingly effective civilian assistants to track down her ever-more-vicious target. Caitlin must bring together the analogue files of the first investigation with the digital speculation of internet message boards for a fascinating look at the puzzle-like aspects of an investigation. Meanwhile, the killer has access to just as much new technology, putting neither cops nor criminals at a complete advantage.
Caitlin shines as a strong lead, a fine addition to Meg Gardiner’s pantheon of powerful female protagonists. Her single-minded dedication to her case gets her in plenty of trouble in her personal life, but she also makes good use of her friends, family and community to keep her sanity and solve the case. Gardiner’s work is filled with brief appearances by scene-stealing characters who we get to know far better than the word count might suggest, and while I appreciate Gardiner’s leads, I like her quirky secondary characters best. UNSUB is no exception – Caitlin recruits a cheery housewife with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Prophet and the message boards dedicated to his work; the contrast between her bubbly demeanor, dark obsessions, and heroic behavior was at turns charming, admirable and amusing to read.
Meg Gardiner writes thrillers, pure and simple; if you like the genre, you’ll adore her latest. Gruesome murders, creative killers, heart-pounding chase sequences, and poisonous explosions together check off many of my summer-read boxes. Realistic characters, quirky interactions, beautiful language and careful plotting elevate this one to a classic-thriller-in-the-making, perfect for these paranoid times.
Meg Gardiner joins us for the official book launch of UNSUB on Monday, June 26th at 7 PM. We’ll have copies of UNSUB for sale a day earlier than the official release date of June 27th – if you’d like an early bird copy of UNSUB, pre-order now or come by on Monday, the 27th. She’ll be in conversation with Jeff Abbott, so those who’d like to meet Austin’s two most eminent thrillerists, come on by for what promises to be a fascinating evening.