COLLECTING THE DEAD, the first book in a series about
Magnus (Steps) Craig and his team, is the first major-
market book for Spencer Kope. Earlier in his career, he
published two books aimed more at the young adult market
with smaller presses. Kope has a background in naval
intelligence and currently works as a crime analyst for the
Whatcom County Sheriff's Office, so he knows of what he
writes. He also understands people and can translate that
into characters with depth.
When I first read the synopsis for COLLECTING THE DEAD, my
thought was of Kimberly Derting's Body Finder series,
but the special paranormal ability of Steps has more
differences than similarities to Violet's ability in
Derting's YA series. Every person has a unique energy
signature that Steps can identify; he calls it shine.
At a crime scene, once he identifies the shine associated
with a criminal or suspect, usually colors such as amaranth
and rust--he can follow their path and identify what they
touched. Steps works with two other members of the Special
Tracking Unit, based out of Bellingham, Wash., Special
Agent Jimmy Donovan and their intelligence analyst Diane
Parker. Between the three of them, they track down
criminals, many of them serial killers, and "save the ones
Jimmy and Steps play off each other well; Jimmy helps keep
Steps grounded as Steps tends to harbor guilt for the lives
he couldn't save more than those he does.
The case at the heart of this mystery is a serial killer
who leaves a frowning face near each of his victims. Dubbed
Sad Face, Jimmy and Steps traipse through multiple counties
to track down this murderer of more than 10 women.
Kope intersperses background for Steps into the story,
giving us more insight into how his mind operates.
Knowledge of Steps's secret is kept close which makes his
life even more complicated. He simply can't share his
experiences with many. In addition to keeping the less
tactically-trained Steps safe, Jimmy has a talent for
dissecting the criminal mind.
Kope moves the story forward at a nice pace, not trying to
sprint to the finish but never letting the plot lag either.
It's a nice blend of crisp dialog and lyrical prose,
especially when describing Steps's nightmares. A particular
scene in a forest comes to mind that sent chills down my
If you enjoy a realistic police procedural, well except for
the shine aspect that is, then Kope has you covered. I'm
glad to hear he's already at work on the next book since
this one ends with a bit of a cliffhanger. I'd already be
150 pages into the next one, if I'd had it at hand. Alas,
as with so many series, they take so long to write and so
little time for me to devour. I can't wait for Steps's next
adventure which apparently has to do with missing feet.
Magnus "Steps" Craig is part of the elite three-man Special
Tracking Unit of the FBI. Called in on special cases where
his skills are particularly needed, he works as a tracker.
The media dubs him "The Human Bloodhound," since Steps is
renowned for his incredible ability to find and follow
trails over any surface better than anyone else. But there's
a secret to his success. Steps has a special ability---a
kind of synesthesia---where he can see the 'essence' of a
person, something he calls 'shine,' on everything they've
touched. His ability is known to only a few people---his
father, the director of the FBI, and his partner, Special
Agent Jimmy Donovan.
When the remains of a murdered woman are found, Steps
recognizes the shine left by the murderer from another crime
scene with a physically similar victim. And he uncovers the
signature at both scenes---the mark of a sad face. At the
same time, another killer, one Steps has dubbed Leonardo and
has been trying to track for over ten years, appears again,
taunting Steps. But while Steps tries to find a clue that
will lead him to Leonardo, the case of the Sad Face Killer
heats up. The team uncovers eleven possible victims: missing
women who fit the same pattern. Using his skill and the
resources of the Bureau, it is a race against time to find
the killer before it's too late.