“The Night Monster,” by James Swain. Ballantine Books. 400 pages. $7.99.
Now available in paperback, “The Night Monster” continues James Swain’s “Jack Carpenter” series, assuring readers that they can depend on this quick-witted and resourceful private eye to provide the same level of excitement that Tony Valentine does in Mr. Swain’s earlier series. To keep Valentine in view, pending further development of that series, the author gives him a cameo appearance doing his thing exposing gambling cheats with a scene set in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
While James Swain writes out of Odessa, a small town in the Tampa area, Broward County is Jack Carpenter’s beat. Jack is a highly specialized freelancer, having accepted a forced resignation from his position as the head of the Broward County Missing Persons Unit. Now, a cold case and a new one merge into what looks like a stream of serial abductions, beginning perhaps with a case from eighteen years back that Carpenter couldn’t close. The perpetrator, a giant hulk of a man, has abducted Sara Long, a Florida State University women’s basketball teammate of Jack’s daughter, Jessie. As the investigation proceeds, other unclosed missing persons cases turn out to have a similar pattern of victims: attractive, athletic young women pursuing nursing credentials. Why these women? Why the 4-5 year intervals between crimes? What is the relationship between the immense abductor and the small man whom Jessie had seen taking pictures of her basketball team?
Because the new case is high profile – Sara Long’s father is an important man – the police are in a rush to close it. They pick the easiest suspect, Sara’s ex-boyfriend, in spite of Jack’s insistence that he is not the perpetrator. Only after Jack has put several of the pieces together are his former workmates forced into following his lead. It helps that an FBI official, as well as Sara’s father, are willing to cooperate – though Mr. Long’s eagerness and arrogance often handicap Jack’s efforts.
When the investigation leads Jack to an abandoned mental institution named Daybreak and then to a small town about a half hour east of Daytona where the majority of the people are missing a limb or two, the creepiness factor accelerates.
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the May 26-June 1, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – James Swain. It also appears in the June 10-16 issue of both the Naples Florida Weekly and the Charlotte Florida Weekly.