Wayne Barcomb’s Passionate Police Procedural

This review appears in the Dec. 24-30, 2009 Naples Florida Weekly.

“The Hunted,” by Wayne Barcomb. Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s. 309 pages. $24.95.

With “The Hunted,” Sarasota resident Wayne Barcomb offers a sizzler of a mystery thriller. Executed with confidence and skill, it has all the ingredients of a best-seller. In homicide detective Frank Russo, Mr. Barcomb has devised an attractive, personable, and authentic protagonist with which to launch an effective series. I wanted to portion out my enjoyment of this tightly-constructed entertainment, but I found that every time I forced myself to put it down, it jumped right back into my hand.

The novel opens with the ugly but gripping scene of a young girl, nicknamed “Lucky,” cringing in terror as her father brutally murders her mother, threatening the girl as well. At trial, the girl’s testimony leads to her father’s conviction. Eighteen years later, the man is released. His violent streak, repressed in prison, is clearly not under control. As he seeks to reunite with his daughter, his feelings oscillate between a lust for revenge and a desire to rebuild the relationship. When Paul Gale discovers that his grown daughter is living in New York, he pursues his dangerous, long-delayed encounter.

Detective Frank Russo, rebounding from a short-lived, intense relationship with a glamorous model on the edge of stardom, finds himself and his partner investigating a grotesque murder case which is soon established as one in a chain of murders. A serial killer is murdering men in their apartments, leaving behind signs of uncontrollable rage as well as the symbolic signature of a wine bottle shoved up each victim’s rectum. The psychological profile of the killer suggests someone who suffered extreme abuse as a child.

The men have nothing in common, but the evidence suggests that in each case the murderer was invited in. A prostitute perhaps?

During this same period, Russo is hesitantly stepping into a romance with Denise, a gorgeous, statuesque young woman whom he encounters at his fitness club. She works for a textbook publisher (a role that Wayne Barcomb knows first-hand), and, as Russo is the author of professional articles and book chapters on police work, they have some unexplored common ground. Both Russo and the woman move cautiously, but before long Russo’s commitment to the case interferes with his availability for relationship building, just as it had with the model.  Naturally, there is a lot of pressure from the higher-ups to close this high profile case.

Mr. Barcomb teases us with alternating points of view. He not only enters the minds of Russo and Gale, but also of Denise and the murderer, who says her friends call her “Lucky,” often juxtaposing their actions and thoughts. Early on, evidence suggests that the perpetrator is a tall, attractive, physically fit woman, and the reader (though not Frank Russo) is led to suspect that Denise, whose background is a bit mysterious, might just be . . . but maybe not.

Wayne Barcomb meticulously develops his plot and characters, wringing every ounce of suspense and misdirection out of his material. The conclusion to “The Hunted” is a stunner.

Readers can find out more about Wayne Barcomb and his earlier books at http://www.waynebarcomb.com. These include two well-received “Sam Wallace” mysteries set in Sarasota.

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