The Night Stalker by Robert Bryndza is the second instalment in his Detective Erika Foster crime fiction thriller series. The first is called The Girl in the Ice and you can check out my review for that here. This is an #OwnVoices British-Slavic series that I have been working my way through slowly, and I am sad to say that my journey will be taking a hiatus after reading the mess that was The Night Stalker.
In this sequel, someone is going around strangling men in the middle of the night, leaving them dead, naked, and tied to the bed. With seemingly no connections between the victims together, aside from the murder methods, Detective Erika Foster is called in to solve the case!
Oh boy, where do I even begin? Usually I like to talk about all of the good qualities that a book entails before jumping into the bad, but unfortunately, that shall not be the case this time around. (Case, haha, get it?)
For a book that is advertised as a crime thriller, it was passionately un-thrilling, boring, and laughably predictable. There was no sense of tension or suspense to hold my interest. On more than one occasion, I even found myself nodding off. This aspect was my biggest issue with it. When I read something that is reputed to be very engaging and anxiety-inducing, I expect there to be some element of mystery and imaginative impulsiveness to the plot to keep me guessing, however. With the exception of a couple of details, everything else was laid out for me like a colour-coordinated and explicitly labelled lesson plan.
I’ve mentioned this in my other reviews, but I hate it when an author reveals the criminal’s identity when highlighting the narrative from their perspective. I don’t mind having a killer’s or villain’s perspective in a story, but if the whole book relies on a certain level of ambiguity and mystery in that regard, then don’t fucking show me who the culprit is. Let is be a bloody unknown. I am guaranteed to be bored and immediately disinterested when that happens. I understand how it works as a plot device, but even then, it was so terribly constructed here, which made it even more bloody horrid. Here’s how it failed:
- The killer’s perspective did virtually nothing to contribute to plot progression.
- It was more than likely included to give them more depth, but it only worked to fluff out the pages and pad an overall one-dimensional character build.
- The POV reiterated environmental and psychological contributors for the killer’s desire and interest in doing what they did and how they did it over and over and over. I GET IT! They had a fucked-up life, can we move the hell on now, please?
It honestly felt like the author had a basic idea of what the story should be but didn’t spend the time or effort to flesh out a consistently written and well-thought out support structure for that story, especially where the villain is concerned.
Some other elements that make the book a nap-time-narcotic includes the professional conflicts created to add complexity to Detective’s Foster’s life outside of solving the case. It is the same damn conflict that was used in the first book in almost the same exact way. This shows me lazy, trite writing, and that the author preferred to regurgitate an already weak plot device rather than think of an original and innovative alternative.
In another section of the book, a familiar friendly face is led to be believed as the culprit behind the killings, which when coupled with Erika’s professional fiasco, shows the British police to be unbelievably unintelligent and bubbling buffoons. It felt like a critique on coppers, in general, as being wholly incompetent to the point of self-destruction. The whole situation came off as severely ingenuine. I’m going to chalk it up to bad writing, again. I have read many narratives where corruption and political conspiracies within a police force can impact the narrative, but it’s usually done in a believable and authentic way. In this book, it felt like it came out of nowhere and was occurring solely for shock factor. I strongly believe the intent was to bring attention to sexism in the police force, but holy shit, did it fail spectacularly.
Regardless of all the shit that bothered me about this book, there is one thing that I found to be quite interesting. At a specific point, about a third of the way through, Erika has an interesting chat with a few colleagues about how serial killers are portrayed in the media and society, specifically how females are perceived when it comes to disturbingly violent acts. The commentary is on sexism and prejudice placed on women, even in the criminal world, and how it works to make them even more vicious and deranged than their male counterparts. This whole bit was very fascinating. I just wish the rest of the book had the same attention and quality that this scene did.
Overall, if you liked the first book, you may want to consider skipping the sequel. I was so disappointed with it. While book one had its issues for me, it was still enjoyable and managed to surprise me to an extent. The only improvement with The Night Stalker was that Erika felt better written in terms of fluidity, and you get to see more happy family dynamics with a lesbian family. As it stands, I probably won’t pick up the third book anytime soon, if I ever pick it up. Don’t read this. There are much better thriller books out there. Go read one of those.