Tami Hoag's The 9th Girl is a police procedural and thriller featuring Detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska of the Minneapolis Police Department (available June 18, 2013).
The 9th Girl is a hybrid story. First, there's the story of the girl herself. She's a Jane Doe (thus the title), possibly—but possibly not—the ninth victim of a serial killer known around the police department as “Doc Holiday” because he kills on the holidays. In fact, the girl is so badly disfigured that she gains the media nickname “Zombie Doe.” The details of the murder are not for the faint of heart.
All eyes went to the horror-movie still of Zombie Doe’s face taped to the wall as the centerpiece of a macabre montage.
“God help us,” Tinks muttered.
“He’d better,” Kovac said. “He already missed his chance with her."
Because of the disfigurement, identifying the girl takes longer than one might imagine and it is in the search for her identity, as much as in the search for her killer, that Sam and Nikki really shine.
This was what it would take, she knew. This was what they would have to do. They had to become this girl’s family. They didn’t know her name or the circumstances of her life or her death, but they had to become her family. They had to be the first line to keep her connected to the world of the living, or else she simply ceased to exist and the universe closed the tiny void left by her light going out, and it would be as if she never mattered. No one should ever die as if his or her life never mattered. Until they found a family to mourn her, the people dealing with her case would be her family.
As much as we can feel their sensitivity, we can also feel their anger over the waste of a precious young life.
“It doesn’t matter what I want,” Kovac said. “I want world peace. I want not to have acid reflux after eating pizza. Nobody gives a shit what I want. I want the truth. I want to know who this girl is and who killed her.”
There is a mystery here that needs to be solved, but this is primarily a book about people, not puzzles. People are at the heart of the book. We see more of Nikki's family than I recall from other books (though it has been a few years since the last Liska and Kovac book, so I could be wrong). Her children are growing up, and they don't have it easy. She feels guilty for leaving them, especially since her older son is having trouble at school with bullies. There is a flavor of desperation to her desire to help someone else's family as her own goes off the rails.
Meanwhile, Kovac is...Kovac.
“It’s an artistic form of self-expression,” Elwood said. “Tattoos are a road map of the bearer’s personal journey.”
“The kid who works the counter nights at my local convenience store has a tat of a snake wrapped around his throat,” Kovac said. “Apparently, his personal journey took a detour through hell.“
Kovac's humor is apt to be grim and deadpan, but it lightens the narrative nonetheless.
But this is not just a police procedural with a mystery to be solved. As I said, there is a second track. And on that track, the thriller track if you will, we meet ”Doc Holiday“ himself. If you read the short story that serves as the prequel to this book (The 1st Victim), you already know who the killer is. At least, you know his name and occupation and the like. And he has his own narrative that winds through The 9th Girl. But although readers know who he is, they don't know (at least for quite some time) whether he is responsible for Zombie Doe's murder.
While I found Doc Holiday's storyline the least interesting part of the book, I really enjoyed the whole ”did-he-or-didn't-he" aspect. It was something I'd never seen. And I do hope Liska doesn't worry so much about her family that she gives up being a detective...I, for one, would miss her.
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Laura K. Curtis lives in Westchester, N.Y., with her husband and two madcap Irish Terriers who’ve taught her how easily love can co-exist with the desire to kill. She blogs at Women of Mystery and maintains a website at laurakcurtis.com. She can also be found on Twitter and poking her nose into all sorts of trouble in various spots around the web.