Casey McKinley, FBI profiler has been in San Francisco for a year, ever since the killer she was profiling attacked her, severing tendons and ligaments and breaking most of the bones in her hands, rendering them almost useless. Casey has become so depressed over her disabilities that she has pushed her husband and daughter, Amy, away - back to their home in Virginia. No longer able to work for the Bureau, Casey’s physical therapist Billy is working hard to restore Casey’s spirit as well as her body.
The man who maimed Casey refers to himself as Leonardo (daVinci). With delicate precision, Leonardo partially dismembers women, generally pre-mortem, allowing them to experience the pain and slowly bleed to death. Until now, all the deaths have occurred in the Cincinnati area. Now, little girls in the San Francisco area are beginning to turn up dead with similar dismemberment’s, but also a new twist: rainbow color birthday party hats in the successive colors of the rainbow.
Casey’s interest is piqued by this case for the first time since her attack. When she is approached by Jordan Gray, the detective working on the case, asking for her profiling expertise, she initially declines. After her house is cut off from electricity and the repairman is killed, she turns to Jordan and agrees to share information with him, hoping to finally end the cat and mouse game and catch the grotesque killer before he strikes too close to home.
Savage Art is a skillfully written first novel that leaves nothing to chance. Each detail (even that of the detectives last name to contrast with the birthday hats) leaves nothing to chance. Each detail that is included is an important key to the killer, his identity and his reasons for killing. Leonardo taunts Casey by always being just out of her grasp. He also terrifies her further by selecting girls whose mothers look eerily like Casey.
As a profiler, Casey relies heavily on her instincts and gut feelings, which generally pay off. The one time she doesn’t entirely trust her instincts, she puts her daughter Amy and herself in grave danger. Casey’s mistrust of people is easy to understand, but she gradually learns to trust the right people and let them help her catch Leonardo and to heal herself.
While the only thing kept hidden in the book is the killer’s true identity, watching Leonardo watching Casey watch him and wonder when he will strike out next and at whom, makes this a fast-paced page turner that will be hard to put down. The tension built up during the chase is sustained through the final resolution.
There are a few unanswered questions at the end of the book regarding the FBI’s relationship with Casey and her current status, that leave the door open if Girard chooses to return with Casey in a sequel. Either with or without a sequel, the book stands on its own as a tautly written thriller that will be difficult to put down.
--Jennifer Monahan Winberry