Review: Caged by Ellison Cooper
By Kristin CentorcelliJuly 14, 2018
Caged by Ellison Cooper is a debut police procedural and the first in a new series featuring FBI Agent Sayer Altair.
FBI Special Agent (and neuroscientist) Sayer Altair really just wants to work on her special project: proving that serial killer brains are physically different from normal ones in hopes of finding a way to keep the violent behavior from arising in the first place. However, she’s been told that she can only work on that in her spare time, which is about to disappear because a corker of a case is coming her way.
A week after a 9-1-1 call comes in from what seemed to be a confused young girl, the cops get another call about the same house. They didn’t come across anything unusual when they visited the house a week earlier, but this time, they find much more than they bargained for. It’s bad from the moment they knock on the door and smell the unmistakable stench of a decaying body. They sweep the house but find nothing, so they prepare to go down into the basement, with disastrous results:
The smell grew stronger and became more acidic in the kitchen. Wilson’s eyes watered and he gestured toward a door. Most likely led down to the basement. A shiny new slide bolt stood out against the grimy walls of the town house.
With a nod, Mike slid the bolt. The door swung open and a wave of rancid air ballooned out, enveloping the cops. They both took an involuntary step back and flung their arms up over their noses, guns forgotten.
Through his shirt sleeve Mike called out, “Let’s just get down there and find the damned body so we can get out of here!”
He stepped down onto the first stair, looked down as though he’d just stepped on something, and said, “What the—” at the same moment a shotgun hanging just inside the door went off.
Standing directly behind Mike, Wilson was shielded from the full blast. A few pellets hit his left arm and the left side of his face, but it hit Mike head on.
His partner screamed in pain and instinctively jerked away. With flesh sloughing away from his face and chest, the muscle-bound cop backed into Wilson and both men toppled onto the floor.
Sayer is now on the case, partnered with agent Vik Devereaux of Crimes Against Children, and what they find is horrifying. In a cage suspended from the ceiling of the basement is the body of a young woman, along with a puppy that is still alive. They find out that she may have been held there for as long as three months before she was killed, and that it’s been about a week since she finally died. It doesn’t look like she was sexually assaulted, but she might have died of severe dehydration and starvation. It’s a horrible way to die, and Sayer is determined to find the monster who would have done this.
It won’t be easy, as the killer didn’t leave any physical evidence. But there is a video, and it’s a doozy. Strange glyphs are projected onto the walls, and it shows the girl’s last moments:
Her fingers fluttered. Her chest rose and fell. Rose and fell.
“She’s still alive here,” Sayer whispered, not trusting her voice.
“Watch,” a robotic voice boomed from the speaker, making them all jump. “The moment she moves beyond the veil.”
Sayer watched, unable to look away. The girl’s hand lifted slightly, up then down. Her chest rose and fell rose and fell. A barely perceptible tremor shook her body. Then nothing.
The image cut off, leaving the room dark.
The details of her death are bad enough, but the team soon finds out that she’s Gwendolyn Van Hurst, the daughter of Senator Charles Van Hurst from Georgia. It’s a public-relations nightmare, and Sayer’s boss trusts her to handle the manner delicately. The Senator, however, seems bound and determined to make that as hard as possible. Frankly, he’s a jerk. He’s nasty to the team and immediately wants to go public with details they’d like to keep close to the vest in hopes they don’t spook their killer. The Senator gets his press conference, though, and it becomes evident that there’s a leak somewhere. Sayer is told to contain it or she’s off the job. It really does seem that fate is throwing every obstacle in the way of these investigators.
However, a break leads the team to catacombs beneath Mount St. Sepulcher in Washington, D.C., and a book that seems to chronicle Gwen’s death. It’s horrific but provides an important look into the mind of who they’ve dubbed the Cage Killer. Even more important, it points to the existence of another girl in a cage, one who might still be alive. Now, they’re in a race against time to find a girl who is probably very near death and a killer whose motives are beyond anything they could imagine.
Sayer is a likable and driven protagonist with a fraught past—both of her parents were killed in a car accident, and her fiancé and fellow agent, Jake, was killed on the job. If you like dogged detectives and (extremely) weird, super creepy killers, you can’t go wrong with this strong debut. Cooper’s crisp prose keeps the tension high throughout, and the last sequence is nightmare inducing. Plan on losing sleep because of this one.