Jude Parrish is a haunted man. The demon that tortures him is sometimes just below the surface, but omnipresent nonetheless. An innocent woman and child died at the conclusion of a hostage stand-off. Convinced that he could and should have ensured a different outcome to that crisis, Jude left the Lake George, New York, Police Department and became a best-selling crime writer. In his first book, he detailed his own shortcomings and revealed his deepest fears to his readers.
On a cold morning, Jude witnesses a murder just outside the gym where he works out daily and is suddenly the key witness. The murderer held an iPhone up to his victim, demanding, “Scream for me,” before executing him at point-blank range. His death is the latest in what appears to be a series of killings carried out in the same manner: the victim is hunted and tortured before his screams are recorded just before his life ends. Allegedly, the prime suspect, Hector “the Black Dragon” Lennox, died a few years earlier. The man identified by Jude, arrested, and charged with the crime bears different fingerprints, but DNA cannot be altered. Will the judge be willing to order the defendant to undergo DNA testing to establish his identity and connection to the prior murders? Will Jude be deemed a reliable witness, in light of his law enforcement history and public confession of his insecurities, self-doubts, and self-recrimination?
Perhaps the real question is this: will Jude, his pregnant wife Rosie, and eight-year-old son Jack live long enough for Jude to testify against the Black Dragon? Can Jude slay the demon that plagues him before Lennox can carry out his methodically scripted first-person video kill game in which he intends to make Jude the “Player?” Or will it be “Game Over” for Jude and his family?
Author Vincent Zandri never fails to deliver a tautly constructed character study that is balanced with nonstop action and surprising plot twists. Scream Catcher is no exception. Rather, it is just the latest in a series of expertly crafted mysteries that keep readers entranced and surprised until the very last page.
Zandri’s locations always function as yet another character in his books. In the case of Scream Catcher, the charming tourist village of Lake George, New York, serves as the backdrop. Quietly nestled amid the splendorous beauty of the Adirondacks, Jude’s log cabin nestled on the lake and adjacent to the woods just outside of town provide the perfect locale for Lennox to carry out his penultimate kill game. Vulnerable in their somewhat isolated home paradise, Lennox penetrates their peaceful life and the layers of protection erected around them, violating his victims’ psyches as he forces Jude to navigate an obstacle course through the dark woods in order to save his wife, unborn child, and young son.
Jude, Zandri’s psychologically-damaged protagonist, is sympathetic and endearing, an “everyman” to whom readers can readily relate. He has spent years second-guessing his handling of the prior case, convinced that had he reacted sooner or differently, he would have saved those two unfortunate victims. No matter how many other police officers, including his own adoptive father, Mack, captain of the Lake George police force, reassure him that the outcome was beyond his control, he does not believe it and is wracked with guilt and remorse. Even writing about his experience has not purged his soul. Confronting his worst fears and inadequacies is the only way Jude can regain his self-confidence. Lennox’s sinister plan to make Jude the ultimate “Player” in his demented kill game will prove to be the decisive test of Jude’s convictions, courage, and tenacity.
Zandri combines time-tested techniques with modern-day plot points, in this case, the video game angle, to create a spell-binding story that never disappoints, once again demonstrating why he is considered one of the contemporary masters of the genre. Unlike in some of his other tales, in Scream Catcher, the characters’ virtues and loyalties are never at issue. Rather, Zandri clearly delineates the good guys and bad guys in this story, but whether or not the good guy triumphs remains an open question until the very end. But Zandri does so with his trademark crisp dialogue, unrelenting suspense, and captivating characters. I highly recommend Scream Catcher.