FBI agent challenged by scheming serial killer

Review by Phil Jason

Stranded, by Alex Kava. Anchor Books. 432 pages. Mass market paperback $7.99.

If you missed the Doubleday hardcover original, catch up with the recently issued paperback of this splendid addition to Ms. Kava’s Maggie O’Dell series. Maggie is no stick figure, but rather a complex character – a person whose private and professional lives interact in fascinating ways. Over the many books in this series, readers have become close to her – as involved in her personal story as they are in her bone-chilling assignments. StrandedCover

Have you ever felt ill at ease when making a stop along the interstate? Especially at night when those rest stops and truck stops seem isolated and the people with whom you choose not to make eye contact seem lost, seedy, or just plain threatening? Did you ever worry about getting stranded? About needing help from a stranger? About being asked to give help to a stranger?

FBI agent Maggie’s must investigate what looks like a long run of serial abductions and/or killings for which just such remote and transient places are the crime scenes. One scene is near Manhattan, Kansas. Another is near Sioux City, Iowa. Yet another is along the Florida panhandle.

Accompanied by her FBI partner R. J. Tully, Maggie finds herself in a battle of wits with a killer who has made her his personal challenge. He manipulates the investigation by leaving clues that must be followed. But followed into what?

This madman is a show-off who needs an audience. Early in the novel, we follow Maggie and Tully to a “body dump” adjacent to an Interstate rest stop. Finding this dump site is a victory for Maggie, but it’s also part of the killer’s plan. He is planning to catch Maggie and . . . who knows?

Ms. Kava strings her story along a tight, week-long time line of accelerating tension. She alternates the scenes that follow the investigation by Maggie and Tully with scenes in which other characters are central.  Prominent among these is FBI consulting forensic psychologist Dr. Gwen Patterson. Gwen’s assignment to the Highway Serial Killings Task Force aggravates her private and professional insecurity.

Alex-Kava

The gruesome aspects of the case, as revealed by Maggie and others, rattle Gwen, who is already fearful of having cancer. Although a second string character, she is given all the nuance and shading that befits a primary character. Such is Ms. Kava’s artistry that such elaboration never stops the action or blunts the emotional edge.

The question of Gwen’s ability to effectively interview the hulking misfit Otis P. Dodd, who has information about the killer, raises its own suspense. So does Mr. Dodd, a fascinating freak if there ever was one. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 13, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly,  the November 19 Fort Myers edition, the November 20 Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, and the November 27 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Stranded 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Stranded 2

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