Once Upon a Crime, an Absolute Nail Biter by Alan Brenham

The Bottom Line: The hunt for a serial killer becomes personal in this absolute nail biter. Michael Connelly fans may find a new favorite in Alan Brenham. 

In Alan Brenham’s Once Upon a Crime, Detective Madison Chase hunts a serial killer named PG who seems to prey on child sex offenders. As a series of child predators turn up dead, PG also turns out to be an amateur poet, taunting Chase with sinister and highly memorable rhyming letters (“here once was a man from this city, who raped a young girl so pretty…”). 

Letters addressed to Chase are initially puzzling, since sex crimes aren’t normally her beat. But the killer’s obsession becomes clearer as PG mentions Chase’s four-year-old daughter, Emily, in one of the rhymes. And as the killer appears to become increasingly fixated on Chase and her family, someone close to the family is taken, spinning the investigation into a startling new direction. But that’s hardly Brenham’s only twist. In the book’s final third, the Special Investigative Unit interrogates a murder suspect that readers will never see coming. And on top of all of this, Chase has to deal with her lowlife ex-husband, who is planning a custody battle that could turn the family’s life upside down.

The most gripping detective stories are often those in which the hunt becomes personal, but few writers not named Michael Connelly are able to pull it off without it feeling fabricated. Kudos to Brenham for constructing a setup that builds patiently and pays off with a bang. In true whodunnit fashion, Brenham manages to tie together a series of seemingly unrelated crimes into a fully cohesive nail-biter.

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