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Badlands    by Richard Montanari order for
by Richard Montanari
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Special Investigations Unit police detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano have been handed a cold case that has stopped them in their tracks. An old murder surfaces in the heat of a Philadelphia August. Humid and scorching temperatures seem to bring out the worst in everyone. The case, which ties in with a new murder (a drowning) takes the detectives on an exhaustive tour of the City of Brotherly Love as they strive to find the person responsible.

A confession on the tipline tells them that more murders will occur. How to stop this from happening is uppermost in the minds of the entire department, the District Attorney, and the Mayor. The murderer leads Byrne and Balzano around by the nose as they scour the hot streets. (It's almost possible to feel the scorching waves emanating from the pavements.) Adding insult to injury is the fact that the madman killing young girls – runaways – appears to have a passion for puzzles. Which only makes the detectives' job harder. Trying to solve the complex puzzle that is being played out, while also attempting to save lives, is almost more than their psyches can handle - they must work hard to keep their perspective.

Author Richard Montanari has a winner on his hands with Badlands, the seventh of his thriller novels. The psychological suspense keeps the reader on tenterhooks from one page to the next. Montanari's knowledge of Philadelphia makes his novel even more real for this reviewer (living in the suburbs of the city). His mention of the Chester County Book Store with its Magnolia Café supports my philosophy that the two things that go together best are a good book and a good meal. The plot is somewhat convoluted. Keep your wits about you as you read as it's well worth the effort.

Good characterizations reign as Montanari introduces one after another of Byrne's and Balzano's fellow officers. The devil incarnate lives in his own world and we are allowed a peek at his warped mind, and given insights into the notion of what nature versus nurture is all about. Draw your own conclusions. Badlands is a good book - don't miss it.

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