The Gallery of the Dead (Robert Hunter #9), by Chris Carter

Nine stars

Chris Carter is back with his ninth instalment of the Robert Hunter series, keeping the story as captivating as ever and the serial killing as gruesome as one might expect. A cell phone call beckons Robert Hunter away at the most inopportune time. A detective within Ultra Violent Crimes (UVC), the most exclusive branch of the LAPD’s Robbery Homicide Division, Hunter and his partner, Carlos Garcia make their way to one of the most gut-churning crime scenes they’ve ever encountered. The victim has had her hands and feet severed and all but a small portion of her skin removed. Upon that untampered piece of flesh, a cryptic message in Latin about beauty. Sure that they are dealing with the most sadistic killer ever to cross the desks of UVC, Hunter and Garcia begin trying to decipher what it all means. Soon, their squad room is filled with three individuals from Washington, as the FBI has a keen interest in the case. Could it be that this killer has more victims outside of Los Angeles. Working for the first time alongside the FBI on a case, Hunter and Garcia learn that the killer—called The Surgeon for the attention he has paid to each victim—has committed at least three murders across the United States, his message only slightly different on each body. While the authorities try to put their heads together, another victim turns up in Arizona, forcing the team to leave the confines of Los Angeles. Hunter has some theories, though every discovery opens new and baffling aspects about this killer. Lurking in the shadows, the man called The Surgeon has more targets in mind, chosen for a specific purpose; to add to his gallery of the dead. Carter offers up one of his most convincing pieces yet with this series that does not stop. Series fans will love this piece and it ought to fuel new readers to begin this collection without delay, especially with the cliffhanger that awaits.

Perhaps one of the greatest psychological thriller writers I have ever discovered, Chris Carter has a masterful way of pulling the reader in during those crucial first chapters and then refuses to let go. How something so disturbing can—like a gruesome car wreck—leave the reader unable to turn away, I will never understand, but Carter does it each time. While the novels no longer focus their attention on protagonist backstory, Robert Hunter continues to thrive with is dry sense of humour and constant delivery of factoids, which enhances the story and educates the reader in equal order. As with each novel, Carter introduces a powerful collection of secondary characters, who not only serve their purpose in the narrative, but also offer a slice of backstory to keep the reader intrigued by them. Some develop in the novel and others remain needed bridges to larger story arcs, all of which tie together by the end. Carter’s utilisation not only of a strong narrative and dialogue, but peppering the story with explanations about serial murder, forensics, and police procedures brings the story to life in a way that few other novels can, placing the reader in the middle of all and on the frontline of any surprises that emerge. These novels, as I have told many people who are seeking something intense, are not cookie-cutter thrillers, in that the serial murderers and the means of killing do not repeat. Each novel provides new and exciting avenues for fans and pulls them in with the simple discovery of a body in some sadistic set-up. It is that addictive factor—that cannot be explained—which serves to turn this series into something so explosive.

Kudos, Mr. Carter, for never letting us down with your writing. I cannot wait to see what Book 10 brings, especially with that ending you provided in this piece.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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The Caller (Robert Hunter #8), by Chris Carter

Nine stars

Returning for yet another stunning psychological thriller, Chris Carter proves why he is the master of the genre. Detective Robert Hunter is again ready to find the most depraved killers in Los Angeles. As part of the LAPD’s Ultra Violent Crimes Unit, Hunter and his partner, Carlos Garcia, place it all on the line to find those with psychopathic tendencies. When a young woman receives a video call from her friend, it looks to be a simple ‘face to face’ catch-up. However, things take a terrible turn when a killer is involved and requires answers to two basic questions. Failure to reply in a set time frame and the caller (the victim whose phone placed the call) will face the consequences. After failing to answer the second, seemingly benign, question, the killer smashes the caller’s face into a container of glass shards, forcing the other to watch through the cellphone screen, helpless. When Hunter and Garcia arrive to begin looking for clues or leads, they discover the most basic description of the killer will take them nowhere, as a sadistic mask was used and voice-altering technology negates any digital breadcrumbs. With his mind that works exponentially faster than anyone else, Hunter begins trying to piece things together, while also juggling a potential new romantic interest. Called away to a second scene, Hunter not only discovers the body of a middle-aged woman, but a husband who seems more focussed on revenge than grief. It is here that the man, dubbed Mr. J, begins his own hunt for the killer, using his personal and work contacts to follow his own trail. While Hunter and Garcia marvel at the evil the killer is inflicting on the victims and those forced to watch, Mr. J is making headway of his own. It’s now a race to see who will find the killer first and what sort of justice will come from the apprehension. Carter stuns fans with another wonderful piece and reminds me why I enjoy his dark thrillers so much. Series fans will likely be highly impressed, alongside new readers who will be pulled in before they can turn away.

It was years ago that I stumbled upon Chris Carter and his work. I have never looked back, nor have I wanted to. Using Robert Hunter as the protagonist and weaving together his varied and quite unique backstory, Carter creates a detective who not only strives on finding the killer, but also wants to get inside his mind. No killer is too deceptive and no crime too horrible to keep Hunter from asking the tough questions, even if he is the only person interested in the discussion. From this point, it is the cast of characters that flesh out the story, with a sadistic killer, whose methods and madness make the book for me, at the centre of this game. It is the thought process, the inherent justification, that really interests me more than anything else. Some may say the story is too gruesome or that the narrative is too reliant on the weak female. To those people, I offer my raised eyebrow and surmise that they ought not to have stumbled into this genre if they wanted something prim, proper, and pitiful. The crux of these novels are their disturbing aspects and that issues pulled from the headlines or social norms can be placed under the microscope. I thoroughly enjoy them for that reason and I would encourage anyone who can relax their literary gag reflex to join the party as well. You will not be disappointed.

Kudos, Mr. Carter, for delivering another stellar novel. I am eager to see what awaits us in the coming months. By then the trolls and vapid complainers will surely have found something else to enjoy.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons