Fighting his own demons and his guilt for allowing mass killer Cara Lindstrom to get away, knowing that she’s out there and has the ability to kill in her own unique way, FBI Agent Matthew Roarke sets out to right the wrong, find Cara and yet in his own heart and mind he hopes she stays gone. Sixteen years ago she was released for Juvenile Hall and sent to a group home where she remained for only two weeks. During that time we hear Cara’s voice as she enters the high school where she is dropped off with six other girls, and sees things that no one else does. Who is the girl covered in blood? Why doesn’t she speak to her? Released from The Yard or a state prison for teenagers at the age of 14 she as mentioned before lives for two weeks in another group home where she learns a lot, becomes more aware of her surroundings and people that might be a threat to her and finds herself becoming a predator not only wondering about the girl with the blood, but accused of killing her counselor at the group home and who is the man in the white van that she sees following her every day. What happened 16 years ago is at the heart of his investigation as Cara takes us back in time to relive those memories with her and we meet the director of the group home Ms. Lewis and the Assistant Principal all whom pretest to care about her, realize that she is above average, claiming to wanting to help her in any way yet, managing to medicate her and the other students in order to keep them in check. But, Cara is smart and conniving and takes the meds but rids herself of them right after. Cara is haunted by visions, monsters, killings, and the reminder and memory of her family killed by a killer at the age of five, sent to live with an aunt who placed her in the foster care system for her to wind up as a serial killer they claim. As the investigation moves along Cara decides to follow Laura and winds up outside a mission and when she sees the Assistant Principal he invites her to join Palmer Chambers but what is it exactly. Things turn tragic when Roarke learns that not only did a girl named Laura died the same day as the counselor but another girl named Ivy Barnes was kidnapped, raped and set on fire and managed to find her way back to the school and lives for seven months with out fingers, her skin melted to the bone and blind. Questioning the director he learns something about what Cara was like and where she might have faltered but not much more as she did not counsel her nor did she think she was in particular danger when she describes the other girls in her care and the abuses they went through that will make you cringe. Cara was fourteen then and now 16 years later Roarke needs to find her and stop the same killer who killed these girls and her parents from doing it again. Meeting someone called Mother Doctor, a nun, enlightens Roarke even more into the mind of Cara but when Chris Devlin comes into the picture things drastically change for Roarke as he does not need to fill him in on Cara he knew her. Cara is a survivor and when she realizes what happened to Laurie she knew she could be next and she ran so far that she hoped she would never get caught. Even with the supposed support of the director of the home and the Assistant Principal of the school, she was different, not accepted and yet smarter than most. When Roarke in the present wanted to know why they did not add more security to the school, follow up with the police and create a more secure environment you will be amazed at the answers he received. With the help of Mother Doctor files were given to him, other information revealed and we get the impression that he will stop at nothing to find Cara in the present but who or what will she turn out to be? Meeting with Mel Franzen of the Wayfarers and learning more about the members, Roarke realizes that someone is wrong when Franzen appears to be upset about Laurie and Ivy’s deaths, is not concerned that they might be related nor does he react to the fact that the original building meeting for the organization was torched. Cara in the past has managed to escape Sharonda the director, the school and is now for a time living with her Aunt Joan and her two children who do not hide their hate and distaste for her and make sure they let her know it every minute they are with her. Aunt Joan is afraid of Cara as you can clearly tell even though she appears to be trying to fit into the small family that she has left. But, what is Cara really doing? The author states in an online interview how she arrived at Cara for a main character in her novels. Murders in California is one source, serial killers that got away and were never caught, and a story about a child 9 year old that was murdered at a friend’s house and left for dead. Cara might be pure evil and yet if you look close really down deep somehow she seems like a tragic character, flawed yet determined in some ways to prove she is worth saving but is she really? Reading about a young teen that is so angry and dangerous and whom no one tried to retrain or repent is one think but in the past there was no DNA testing as Roarke is looking into in the present. No cell phones or emails as he can search with now plus online old photos, newspapers, articles and police reports since technology is more advanced now. The Chinese people gave the December Moon one of its ancient names the Bitter Moon. As Roarke meets with Detective Ortiz the lead on the case and hears his voice we know that something about him rings unsavory and why did everyone assume that Cara killed Pierson the counselor when her family claimed she was home? Why didn’t anyone pursue the Ivy Barnes case and try and find out who kidnapped her and set her on fire? When Roarke meets with retired Detective Miller the reaction is different but the answers are practically the same. Arson, two murders of high school girls, rapes, no one looking into anymore and the counselor almost like a cover-up or someone close to the girls is the killer.
Roarke won’t give it a rest as he searches more, questions Mother Doctor and realizes that Cara is still out there as we hear her voice in the past, questioned by Miller and Ortiz and how she cleverly convinces them and everyone else that she never left home although in reality we realize who took the life of the counselor. Added in rather than remain with her aunt she chooses to return to school and the boys that bullied her just might be next on her list. Revenge, anger, retribution, hate and the will to survive describe Cara in the past but what about in the present? Tying in Laura and Ivy’s murders was the start as Rourke along with Mother Doctor analyze the red and blue pins and the boards he set up realizing that there might not be one rapist but two. Added the rapist moved ahead and decided to add burning or torching his victims but first captured them, blindfolded them, raped them and then killed them. Some survived but would never be the same as Ivy was the first one he burned or the first one he knew about. Fear sets in as Mother Doctor realizes that the killer strikes at the end of January and he might strike anytime soon again but can they stop him? In the present Cara attends Ivy’s funeral, goes back to school and will she seek revenge of the boys who bullied and beaten her?
Principal Lethbridge is the principal of Las Piedras High and Mel Franzen, the Wayfarers Club, president and both are Wayfarers and sponsored groups related to the Palmers that both Ivy and Laura belonged to. The author goes on to describe the four types of behaviors that define serial killers. Roarke at the same time fits the pieces together along with Mother Doctor learning that there were others raped belonging to group homes but there are two killers out there not one. Just how was he going to stop it and because these girls lived in group homes no one came to advocate for them or to their rescue which is a serious issue even today that needs to be addressed when people have the care of these girls in their hands. Cara in the past cleverly decides to join the Palmers and her next move you won’t believe. You hear her listen to the nun at the mission telling her she is loved but what she does with the man who killed Laura you won’t believe. “The monster with the monster inside. When the monster has used her in every way she could be used, he drags her from her metal prison and hurls her to the ground and what comes next will set you heart on fire along with the victim’s. Hot wiring cars, stealing from her aunt, living on the edge, Cara finds her way back to the school only to be told by Ms. Sharonda never to come back. Where is next for her? Will she be stopped? The ending leaves you wondering just what the definition of justice or vigilante justice really means. Alexandra Sokoloff presents two flawed characters, each on the same quest both in the past and the present, both trying to rid the world of killers, both in a different yet same way as Roarke comes face to face with one serial killer as Cara reenacts for readers what she did do the other one and one completes the act while the other has a moral decision to make. What will Roarke do when coming face to face with the reason so many young girls were raped and dead? What would Cara have done in the same situation? Sometimes as in this case the ending is a new beginning. What’s next for these two characters? Will Cara ever remain in one place? Will the wolf in her settle down? Will Roarke ever come face to face with her? Only the author knows the answers to these questions and I am sure readers would too.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine