REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF – Book of Shadows. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, June 2010.

   I admit readily I am a sucker for an evocative opening, and this one does it in spades.

   Caterpillar trucks and front-loaders crouched with metal jaws gaping, like gigantic prehistoric insects on the mountains of trash, an appalling chaos of rotting vegetables, discarded appliances, filthy clothing, rusted cans, mildewed paper: the terribly random refuse of a consumer society gone mad. A lone office chair sat on the top of on one hill, empty and waiting, its black lines stark against the fog.

   And below it, tangled in the trash like a broken doll, was the body of a teenaged girl.

   Boston policemen Adam Garrett and Carl Landauer have caught a messy case, the dismembered body of a murdered teen left in a landfill. The two, different as night and day, are a good team, seasoned and skilled at their jobs, but this time they are about to be in over their heads, beginning with the black wax found on her, the number 333, and three triangles carved on her flawless skin.

   It’s not an ordinary sex murder, not an ordinary serial killer. That much is quickly apparent, and it soon gets worse when they find the victim is the daughter of a wealthy businessman.

   The ME soon confirms the cops worst fears, the not so faint breath of the Satanic is licking at the heels of the case like a hound of hell.

   But this is more than just some drug happy kids playing with blasphemy. Something more serious and more primal is going on, and the stench of sulfur and brimstone is palpable.

   I confess I love this sort of thing when it is done well as it is here. The mix of police procedural and growing horror is kept well in balance with the hero gradually facing despite everything there is more at stake than just a killer, more at hand than only brutal murder.

   Enter the attractive Tannith Cabarrus, who comes to the police to report she has dreamed three murders. Tannith isn’t a psychic, she’s a witch, and something evil is about, and the clencher is hard to deny;

   “So if you ‘dreamed’ this before, why is this the first time we’re hearing about it?”

   “It’s not,” she said. There was ice in her voice. “The first time, I hoped it was just a dream. The second time I knew it wasn’t, and I called here, the police station. I was told no such killings had occurred. This time—when I saw the news, I came in.”

   Of course Garrett and Tannith are going to become involved as the case spirals out of control and edges toward madness. Sokoloff has a sure hand, and keeps all the elements in the air as she juggles them with professional skill building to a suspenseful and dramatic confrontation with evil and madness well beyond the mere human kind.

   By downplaying the melodrama, Sokoloff succeeds in making it all the more effective when it does come, avoiding the too great reliance on eldritch lore and the weird for a solid blend of cop drama and supernatural thriller. It’s always a pleasure to be taken in hand by a gifted pro for a walk on the really wild side.