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The Headhunters: An Inspector Hen Mallin Investigation    by Peter Lovesey order for
by Peter Lovesey
Order:  USA  Can
Soho, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

The Headhunters, the latest top-notch mystery from Peter Lovesey, one of Britain's best mystery novelists, is outstanding and highly recommended as a subtle combination of clever wit and pulse-pounding suspense featuring DCI Hen Mallin, a remarkably 'tough cookie' who refuses to be sidetracked in her job as the senior officer of a murder squad in Chichester, England.

When the exemplary action begins, two couples - Jo Stevens and Rick Graham; and Gemma Casey and Jake Kernow - are enjoying a night on the town, and they nickname themselves the headhunters following a conversation during which Gemma says, 'I could cheerfully murder my boss.' The two couples further entertain themselves by discussing fail-proof and detection-proof methods for committing murder, and so their tongue-in-cheek nickname is born.

Later, Jo is anxious to meet up with Jake, so she takes a walk on a beach near where he works in Selsey, and it is there that she stumbles upon the body of a dead woman. The Chichester police immediately become involved - with DCI Mallin taking the lead in the investigation - and The Headhunters is off-and-running under a full head of steam.

A twelve-year police veteran whose 'career had always come first,' Mallin - fond of smoking her 'evil-smelling cigarillos' - finds few clues about the unidentified body at Selsey, but soon, when a second dead woman is found in Mill Pond at nearby Emsworth (accidentally discovered by Jo and Gemma), and when a third dead woman is found in a backyard swimming pool (also accidentally discovered by Jo and Gemma), Mallin and her team of investigators justifiably worry that they may have a serial killer on their hands (and they're more than a little perturbed about Jo's and Gemma's coincidental appearances at all three crimes scenes). And making matters seemingly worse, Gemma's boss is missing!

However, even as more clues about the three deaths begin to surface, Mallin remains very much concerned about the ways in which the same names keep coming up: Jo Stevens and her friends Gemma, Jake, and Rick. But Mallin has no way of knowing - at least for a while - that they may be looking at all the wrong people as suspects; in fact, a deeply disturbed murderer with dark secrets and a hidden past is roaming around undetected in Chichester, and - unless Mallin can crack the case - other women are definitely in danger.

With a flawlessly paced dialogue-driven plot, exquisitely crafted characterizations, and a charming protagonist who is among the most interesting to grace the pages of police procedurals, The Headhunters is an absolute must-read winner. Don't miss it!

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