The Christopher Killer by Alane Ferguson
3Q 4P J/S
Grrrr. Argggh.* This is the book I've been holding on to longest, so I'm afraid I've forgotten a lot of what I was going to say about it. So I'm going to say that middle school kids can handle this one if they can handle the CSI series. But fair warning: Ferguson does not shy away from the details of an autopsy or a seriously decayed dead body.
Seventeen-year-old Cameryn Mahoney has known for years that she wants to become a forensic scientist. She's done her research, too. Her father is the county coroner, and she's read all the books he has on the subject, and as many others as she can get her hands on. She's been waiting for just the right moment to ask her father if she can act as his assistant. This morning, the morning he gets the call about the floater found in a bathtub at the local hotel, is her chance. Her grandmother (Mammaw) is flat against it, but surprisingly, her father agrees. Cameryn is thrilled.
A floater is not a good way to get introduced to the job of county coroner, and that's especially true when the body isn't found for a few days. Even though Cameryn knows in her head what she's getting into, the reality is a little different. She's embarrassed and humiliated when she's caught vomiting by the sheriff's new deputy. To make it worse, her father hates the man and won't tell her why. And to make it even worse, the deputy is actually kind of...cute. But Cameryn has a job to do, so she gets her mind off the vomit and the deputy and does it, to the admiration of her father and the great annoyance of the medical examiner, who thinks a teenage girl has no business at an autopsy and certainly has no business stating her opinions during it. No, right from the start, Cameryn learns the job isn't going to be an easy one. It's about to get even harder. The next death she has to deal with is not only a murder, it's the murder of a friend.
Cameryn's best friend, Lyric, is really into psychics and psychic phenomena, but Cameryn thinks it's all a crock. She humors Lyric, but honestly, why do people fall for charlatans who claim they can see into the future or get messages from beyond the grave? So when Lyric and Adam, a boy from their class, start babbling on about the live TV show Shadow of Death and Jewel, the psychic who claims he talks to the dead, she rolls her eyes, especially when Adam claims that the scene that Jewel described in last night's show reminded him of their own small town of Silverton. Get real, she says, there hasn't been a murder in Silverton since the Gold Rush days. Only minutes later, she gets a phone call from her father summoning her to the scene of a crime. She can hardly believe it when she realizes that the body is Rachel's. And yes, the scene is very similar to the way Jewel apparently described it. But Cameryn believes in science, not psychics.
Things get even creepier when the evidence begins to indicate that Rachel was probably the latest victim of the Christopher Killer, a serial murderer who has killed several young girls around the country, leaving a Saint Christopher medal on their bodies.
Who could possibly have killed Rachel, and why? Was it the Christopher Killer? Why would he come to a tiny town like Silverton? Why would he target someone like Rachel? It doesn't seem very likely. In fact, it seems far more likely that Rachel's killer was someone who knew her. Maybe somebody who had a crush on her. Maybe somebody like...
This is an interesting book. One of the things I appreciate about it is that it doesn't pull punches when it comes to describing the realities of murder and dead bodies. Most mysteries for teens either shy away from murder entirely or make it pretty antiseptic. Yes, there's a dead body, and yes, there's some blood. But it isn't, like, icky or anything. Yeah, right. Alane Ferguson doesn't insult the intelligence or the stomachs of her audience. Which means if you don't like maggots, blood, and graphic descriptions of what happens after death, you'll either want to skip reading this book or cover your eyes for a paragraph or two here and there.
Another point in this book's favor is that she's created some interesting dynamics between her characters and planted the seeds of some situations that have promise down the road. (Yes, this is the first book of a series. Book two is already out, though I haven't ordered it for the library - yet.) Right from the beginning, we learn that Cam's mother abandoned her long ago, but we don't know why. Neither does Cam. Cam just knows that whenever she wants to do something her grandmother doesn't approve of, it gets blamed on her mother's genes. That's a lot for a girl to deal with right there. Cam's father walks a tightrope between his daughter's wishes to immerse herself in forensic science and his mother's anger that he'd even consider it, when she should be concerned with learning to cook and finding a nice job for a young lady. The tension between Cameryn and her grandmother is very believable (though Mammaw maybe leans just a wee bit towards caricature, at least in this book). Cameryn also has to deal with being attracted to someone her father clearly hates and wants her to have nothing to do with. Cameryn isn't quite sure if she likes the deputy as a person or as a guy, but she does know she doesn't understand why her father thinks he's such a bad guy. She finally discovers the truth, but it doesn't exactly clear the path to her father being perfectly fine with her developing a friendship with him. Another interesting angle to follow up in the future.
Could I see the solution to the mystery from pretty far away? Yeah, I could. I'm not sure there are enough surprises in this book. That's what keeps me from giving this book a higher grade in the quality department. But I think there's room to build here. In future books, more attention can be paid to the mystery and a few more serious red herrings, now that the character development and basic premise have been well begun. I'm very glad to have this book to recommend to teens who want to read a good mystery.
*Extra credit if you get the reference. :)