Book Review: Gone for Good by Joanna Schaffhausen
By Janet WebbAugust 31, 2021
What is it about a cold case that quickens the imagination? Grocery store manager Grace Harper is a leading member of an amateur sleuth group called the Grave Diggers. Their mission is to solve “dead cases, gone cold so long that most others have forgotten about them or given up.” Grace believes the Lovelorn Killer is still alive: her mad research skills persuade her that the infamous killer has a tell-tale modus operandi.
I’ve been walking the streets he walked, looking in the same windows. Sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of his reflection in the glass, at least what I imagine he must look like. I bet he’s got the same wall of photographs that I have, but his are kept private where no one else can see. His newspaper clippings must be yellowed and fragile, so old that they look like ancient history. He surely believes he got away with it. But I’ve checked the weather reports for all seven murders, and now I know where to find him.
Grace Harper’s motive is to reclaim the humanity of the seven victims—to force people to remember that “Shauna Atkins played Maria her senior year in West Side Story, or that Lauren Gardner wanted to be a foster mom.” If she can entice the Lovelorn Killer out of twenty years of hibernation, she can realign the scales of justice so that the lives of seven women are honored. Unfortunately, Grace is all too successful at luring a serial killer out of the shadows—she becomes his eighth victim.
Chicago detective Annalisa Vega is “making talk so small she needed a microscope to parse it,” when she gets a Code 10-54 text from Dispatch. Farewell blind date.
A body. “Oh,” she said with what she hoped sounded like regret, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. It’s work.”
“Work? Even at this hour?”
She was already gathering her things. “Homicide doesn’t punch a time card,” she declared, maybe too cheerfully.
What were the odds her commander would pair her up with her ex, Nick Carelli? Yes, she told Zimmer it was an amicable split, “ancient history” even, but as the saying goes, “of all the gin joints.” The detectives are horrified at the sight of Grace Harper’s body: “She lay nude and facedown, her hands bound behind her back and yoked to her feet and neck in a complicated series of slip knots. Her pale flesh was discolored around the neck, and the ligature around her throat suggested this was the cause of death.” Nick and Annalisa are transfixed by the photos above Grace’s desk: “Dead women, all of them strangled by ropes.” The brunette in the center is a dead ringer for Grace.
Annalisa gulped in air and stared wide-eyed at the picture, come to life right out of her dreams. Twenty years dissolved around her. She felt dizzy, sick.
“It’s like a murder shrine,” Nick breathed in fascination. “And someone went to a lot of trouble to stage a rerun. Look at that one—it’s the same number of knots, same position of the body.”
“He’s back.” Annalisa swallowed twice in quick succession to bring back her voice. “We’re going to have to tell her son.”
“Her son? I thought the vic lived here alone.”
She reached out and stroked the picture of the other dead woman. It took all her power not to rip the photo down and hold it to her chest. “Not Grace Harper’s son. Hers.”
The seventh victim was Katie Duffy, Annalisa’s childhood neighbor and the mother of Colin, Annalisa’s first love. Since Nick has recently returned to Chicago after ten years in Florida and doesn’t know much about the Lovelorn Killer, Annalisa brings him up to speed.
“He killed seven women over a period of a few years in the late ’90s. Then he dropped out of sight around Y2K. He murdered Katie Duffy on Halloween night and then nothing since. I think most people thought he was dead or locked up somewhere.”
Annalisa minimizes what Colin was to her when she speaks of him: “He’d been the sun in her sky once, the first boy to notice she was a girl in a family full of brothers.” Gone for Good is the perfect title for the first Detective Annalisa Vega mystery—as much as we might want to, as the poet Wordsworth so poignantly phrased it, “nothing can bring back the hour of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower.” Vega honors the dead by painstakingly following the abundant clues Grace Harper left behind. For instance, why were the weather conditions at the time the victims were murdered significant? Annalisa’s investigation is grounded in her childhood: she and Katie Duffy were neighbors in Chicago’s Norwood Park. Gone for Good is sprinkled with vignettes of Chicago, like Wicker Park, one of Annalisa’s go-to spots for food.
Whatever you were hungry for, whether it was fine dining with starched napkins or a grungy bar with greasy burgers, you could find it in Wicker Park. She loved the Middle Eastern at Sultan’s Market, fresh sushi at Enso, carnitas tacos at Big Star, and a big steaming bowl of ramen at Furious Spoon.
There are three strands to the story. First, Annalisa’s childhood memories of the death that ripped apart her neighborhood, second, Grace Harper’s copious computer notes about the past and present of the Lovelorn Killer and third, the all-hands-on-deck investigation of the killer’s return. The strands coalesce into a finger-biting, race-against-time thriller. The killer has his eyes set on Annalisa: can she bring him to justice before he kills again?
Annalisa Vega is bold and courageous. She takes chances, follows her instincts, and protects the innocent. Two men, her first love Colin Duffy and her work-partner (and ex) Nick Carelli, are dear to her heart. Kudos to award-winning author Joanna Schaffhausen for giving readers a fantastic kick-off to her new series featuring Detective Vega.