In the third Santero and Rein thriller, Carrie and Jacob must stop a lunatic who calls himself The Master, as he sends out letters to his potential victims.
Fifteen years ago, Herbert Presley Tanner abducted teenager Brenda Drake in order to commit a ritual purification of the flesh demanded by his fanatical beliefs. He doused her in gasoline and was about to light a match when detectives Jacob Rein and Bill Waylon intercepted him and brought him to justice.
Now Brenda Drake has been reported as a suicide. Arriving at the death scene, detective Carrie Santero finds a letter Brenda had received from someone who signed himself as "The Master." Bill Waylon, Carrie's boss, calls on her help after receiving a letter threatening the lives of his two daughters. Again, the signature is "The Master."
Waylon recognizes the demented signature. Herbert Presley Tanner, he explains, was sentenced as a juvenile and committed to a mental health facility where he has been held indefinitely. Now, the state is trying to offload him. He has a hearing coming up. Bill needs Carrie to make sure Tanner isn't released.
But when Tanner comes before the court, with the support of his parents and his prison doctor, the judge releases him. A woman who has been close to Rein is murdered, as is a female cousin whom Tanner had tortured as a teen. The threats intensify to include Carrie, Rein, and all who are dear to them. Carrie must delve into the deep secrets of Jacob Rein's past - and into the dark abyss of a psychopath's homicidal impulses - to stop "The Master" from destroying more lives.
Schaffer's adequate third Santero and Rein thriller (after 2019's Unsettled Grave) finds the pair on the trail of a sadist. Fifteen years earlier, Jacob Rein, then a Viera County, Pa., police detective, helped stop high schooler Tucker Pennington from torching a classmate, Brenda Drake, he doused with gasoline. Now, before Pennington is released from a secure mental facility, Brenda apparently commits suicide, and Det. Carrie Santero discovers a threatening letter near the body signed by "The Master," Pennington's criminal alias. When Pennington's psychiatrist is later found murdered, Santero decides that she needs now ex-detective Rein's help. At the crime scene, Rein and Santero note inconsistencies with Pennington's previous m.o., and agree that a copycat could be at work. Since there's just one significant alternative to Pennington as the villain, the reveal of the "real" killer won't surprise many readers. The detectives are clever enough but not particularly distinctive. A fair amount of action, gore, and weird ritual should satisfy most fans of serial killer fiction.