What is it about serial killers that ordinary people find so fascinating? Think about it. Stories about real life serial killers from prior centuries, like Jack the Ripper, still sell books and become the basis for hit movies. Fictional serial killers like Hannibal Lecter can transform reclusive authors into multi-millionaires during the course of just one or two hit books and movies. Maybe it’s that serial killers replace the monsters and assorted scary types we met in childhood (those of us, that is, who were children prior to today’s politically correct fairy tales and cartoons). Whatever the attraction, it is difficult to argue that the exploits of serial killers, be they real or fictional ones, don’t grab our attention.
Fans of serial killer fiction will be happy to find that Janson Mancheski’s new novel, The Chemist, includes a worthy addition to that list of killers (although there is doubt as to the ultimate fate of many of his victims) whose crimes fascinate as much as horrify us. Mancheski’s serial abductor is very good at what he does, so good, in fact, that there is nothing to make investigators think that the three young women who disappeared the previous spring have anything in common. They, along with their vehicles, have simply vanished. It is only when the headless body of one of the missing women is fished from Lake Michigan and Green Bay detectives learn that the body is filled with date rape drugs that they begin to understand what is happening in their community.
As a new spring begins, and another girl is reported missing, Detective Cale Van Waring faces a race against the clock. He has a hunch that the missing women have been taken, and maybe murdered, by one man but he has no clues, no witnesses, and very little hope that he and his team will be able to identify the kidnapper before he strikes again. What he does have going for him is a dedicated team willing to bend proper police procedure if that might save lives, a police captain willing to shield him from much of the criticism directed at the police for what seems to the public and local politicians as a complete lack of progress on the case, and a low-life willing to trade what little he suspects about the killer for a reduced prison sentence of his own.
Janson Mancheski, a practicing optometrist who was the team eye doctor for the Green Bay Packers for almost a decade, has used his scientific background to write a realistic police procedural that includes many of the best crime thriller elements. His pathological “mad scientist” creates a method of abduction unusual enough to baffle the investigators and leave his victims helpless, a method that readers will recognize as brilliant and terrifying in its inherent simplicity. As Mancheski so clearly demonstrates in The Chemist, though, good detective work often comes down to the process of elimination as one possibility after another is recognized, investigated, and eliminated from the list of possible solutions. The magic displayed in television crime series seldom, if ever, happens in the real world, making it all the more surprising when a spectacular, high profile offender is finally identified.
The Chemist is said to be “A Cale Van Waring Adventure, Book One” and I’m looking forward to the detective’s next Green Bay case because Mancheski has created a cast of characters and a world that I enjoyed visiting. I’m curious to see how the relationships change over time, as they do in the best series, and I hope that down the road Van Waring and his crew become old friends of mine.
Rated at: 4.0