* This book is scheduled for release on July 16, 2013. It may be pre-ordered from online book sources.

STRANDED


By Alex Kava

Doubleday, 2013 ($24.95)

ISBN-13: 978-0-385-53554-0

Reviewed by Sam Waas

STRANDED is the 12th novel in the series featuring FBI agent Maggie O'Dell.

A serial killer is predating victims seized from Interstate highway truck stops across the central states. Maggie and her partner, R.J. Tully, work with local law enforcement to track down this vicious murderer.

The killer has planted clues designed to tease the investigators, because some of this information is apparently valid, while some is meant to mislead the cops. Teams from the FBI headquarters and other venues work diligently to understand and decode these often cryptic messages.

O'Dell and her investigators are joined by rescue and cadaver search dog trainer Ryder Creed, and an unspoken bond quickly develops between Maggie and Ryder that may blossom into romance. But finding the killer before he adds more death to his tally is the primary objective, and the potential affair is quite properly moved to the back burner by both Maggie and Ryder. They've got a serious job ahead.

Soon the serial killer's planted clues take on a new and disturbing perspective: he seems to be focused personally upon Maggie O'Dell and appears to have researched her previous cases to gain familiarity with her lifestyle. And somehow, he knows her current whereabouts and progress in the investigation. Is the murderer someone close to Maggie? Is he targeting Maggie as a possible victim?

STRANDED is a first rate police procedural thriller that will greatly please both Maggie O'Dell fans and new readers. The tone of the novel is brisk and engaging, characters and plot nicely developed, and shows a fine hand in creation of mystery suspense.

Police behavior in the novel is well described, the law officers shown as having discrete personalities and traits. These lend verisimilitude because too often, police are seen as monolithic and lacking humanity, which renders a novel a chore to read. But Ms. Kava gives us well-rounded characters in police, bystanders, and villains alike and this greatly boosts the story line, because we can only invest in characters whom we know something about.

There are a few caveats. Newcomers to the O'Dell series may find themselves wondering more about Maggie as a person. Normally, an author spends a bit of time in the early portion of each series novel describing the principals. Such depiction may seem a little repetitious for faithful fans, as I can testify whenever I read a new John Sandford "Prey" novel featuring Lucas Davenport, because I can now recite from memory the pattern of Davenport's scars. Nevertheless, if only to reset fans, a brief personal description of Maggie O'Dell might be good.

The novel also reads a bit mild in tone, particularly since a brutal serial killer is the antagonist. The murder scenes and victim morphology are slightly soft-pedaled. But this may simply be a personal preference of mine, wanting to read further about the nasty bits whereas other readers may be put off by graphic imagery.

As a self-admitted "gun nut" I can also faintly object that too many of the police in the novel still carry revolvers. This has almost disappeared from modern law enforcement in favor of semiauto pistols. And police headed toward remote forest preserves would definitely carry satellite phones in lieu of cellphones that can rapidly lose range.

But these are only minor objections. STRANDED is an enticing and superb police procedural which I highly recommend to Maggie O'Dell fans as well as first time readers.

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