A Talent for Murder
June 18, 2024

Book Review

A Talent for Murder

reviewed by Andrew Smith


The story begins with Josie Dixon, a polyamorous teacher, meeting a man at a conference at Shepaug University in Connecticut. They get to talking, and that night they share a bed. Then tragedy strikes. It’s our first indication that a predator may be at large.

Martha Ratcliff is an archival librarian, used to living alone but open to a relationship if the right man comes along. When she meets Alan Peralta, a traveling salesman, it seems that he might suit her. He’s kind, and she quickly grows to like him a great deal; she doesn’t love him, but perhaps that’ll come in time. An additional point of merit is that Alan is away a good deal of the time, selling his T-shirts, ties, and badges (most decorated with an appropriately succinct but amusing phrase). Martha will therefore still have her alone time, something she values. Yes, this’ll work well, she decides. They marry and settle into a comfortable routine.

But one night, she happens to be looking out of her bedroom window when he returns from one of his trips. She watches as he steps out of the car and visibly – she thinks – prepares himself to enter the house. What is it that she senses in that moment? It’s hard to describe, and yet it somehow sets her on edge. Then, following a subsequent trip, Martha finds a stain on his shirt, which had been put out for washing. Is that a bloodstain? It’s hard to be sure, but with this discovery adding to her existing unease, she starts to wonder whether Alan is quite the man she believed him to be.

These suspicions cause Martha to undertake some research, looking for reports of any incident that might have been reported at, or close to, the venue Alan last attended. Disturbingly, she finds something. This spurs her on to carry out additional searches, looking for similar reports close to other venues he’d recently attended. Shockingly, there seems to be a spate of fatal incidents involving women. She’s not ready to challenge Alan yet or to report her concerns to the police – she doesn’t want to end her marriage because of a vague feeling and, perhaps, a series of coincidences. She does, however, concoct a plan.

Lily Kintner had been a friend of hers at college, where she’d helped Martha escape from the grasp of a controlling partner. Though she hasn’t spoken to her in some years, she contacts Lily with a view to enlisting her help. Lily is living with aged parents and is somewhat bored. Soon, she’s agreed to assist her friend in covertly investigating what Alan gets up to when he’s away on business. In fact, Lily is a wonderfully complex character: she’s intelligent, determined, and also something of a sociopath. Lily also engages a friend of hers, Henry Kimball, a private investigator and former police officer, to assist her.

The book is broken into three sections and is constructed in such a way that we are to view events through different eyes in each section. This works extremely well. Not only is the perspective changed, but the mood is significantly altered too. It almost feels like three separate stories, each linked by a series of common events. The tension, too, ramps up as it becomes clear that what we’ve learned so far certainly doesn’t represent the whole picture. It’s a book that at first interested me but then gradually dragged me deeper into its thrall. By the end, I was reluctant to part company with the story at all, such was the power it had gained over me. I now know that this is the third book the author has penned featuring Kintner and Kimball – I plan to seek out the others very soon.

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