Review: The Secret Friend by Chris Mooney

Wednesday 18 February 2015
Title: The Secret Friend (Darby McCormick, #2)
Author: Chris Mooney
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 23rd February 2012
Source: Purchased
Pages: 448
ISBN: 9780718196004
Rating: 4/5
Purchase: Amazon
Two dead girls in the river

Two tiny statues of the Virgin Mary concealed in their clothing

One CSI on the hunt for their killer

When Judith Chen is found floating in Boston's Harbour, links are made with the murder of Emma Hale, a student who vanished without trace, only for her body to wash up months later.

CSI Darby McCormick is assigned to the case and uncovers a piece of overlooked evidence from the Hale investigation - which brings her into contact with Malcolm Fletcher, a former FBI agent now on the Most Wanted list after a string of bloody murders. And when a third student goes missing, Darby is led into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with deadly links to the past - and a man who speaks to the Blessed Virgin. A man who wants to be a secret friend to the girls he abducts ...

It's only been a little over a day since I finished the first book in the Darby McCormick series, The Missing, but I enjoyed it so much that here I am writing my review for the second book in the series, after one sleepless night and a day of me walking round like a zombie until I could come home and continue reading. I can definitely see this becoming a favourite series of mine if further books in the series improve on what came before, the potential is evident when reading, I just feel certain things I enjoy in a crime novel are lacking at times. When I read the blurb for The Secret Friend I didn't go into it with the excitement I want to feel at starting a book, and that's because crime novels with a religious focus aren't something I am crazy about (despite there being a lot of them). That said I went into it with an open mind, and it wasn't long before I got hooked on the story.

Darby McCormick is a Crime Scene Investigator, which as we know is a role in fiction that is greatly exaggerated. This time around Darby receives a promotion of sorts, which sees her become the first forensic technician to be placed in an investigative position, which goes some way towards alleviating the lack of realism this role in fiction can give off, and it means contrived reasons for a CSI to be places where there's no evidence to be collected believable. Mooney actually mentions the CSI effect in this book, which I thought was a funny little touch, like on TV when they criticise crime novels. As with book one, much of the focus is on evidence and how it is used to try to apprehend a criminal, but also how easy it is for the team to become fixated on one piece of evidence, whilst perhaps overlooking and missing some other piece which is more important. I do find forensic science fascinating, and love how Mooney uses it in his books and how well researched these parts of the book feel. Similarly it is about how they face roadblocks when evidence they need is missing, or when they can't interpret what it means.

When the bodies of two students are found, months apart Darby is assigned the case and given the task of reviewing the evidence. The killer is believed to be the same person because each girl was found with a statue of the Virgin Mary sewed inside their pockets. No other link can be found at first, until Darby comes across a piece of evidence that was overlooked first time around. Then a third student goes missing, and it is then a race against time as Darby and the team attempt to save the girl before she too washes up dead. Darby's investigations bring her into contact with Malcolm Fletcher, a former FBI agent who is now on the Most Wanted list after a string of bloody murders. Straightaway Malcolm was a very intriguing character, and it is easy to see why Mooney gave him his own standalone novel (The Killing House) which I cannot wait to read (though I believe he has appeared in another of Mooney's books?). Malcolm plays a major role in the book, and the scenes with Darby were some of my favourite, as the focus is very much on the characters, what makes them tick and with Darby in particular she is forced to answer some difficult questions, and forced to make some difficult decisions - both of which say a lot to the reader about the type of person that she is. I also enjoyed reading about the secondary characters, and the relationship she had with those, in particular her work partner, Coop.

As the book moves along we follow both the police and the killer himself, who believes the Blessed Virgin is speaking to him and selecting the girls for him. Towards the end of the book the action is cranked up, and some particularly atmospheric scenes turn this into a very exciting read indeed. The problem I had was with the way the killer was introduced, and with us following him as we did, there wasn't much scope for twists, it was very much a case of the police hunting a killer with the reader knowing they would apprehend him in the final section, that's not to say it wasn't an enjoyable read, it certainly was, but some of the excitement was lost. Once again Mooney writes in a way that, when I turned the last page, I was left wanting more. I imagine I'll be starting book three, The Dead Room, in the very near future. The potential for a brilliant series is there, and I hope that book three can build on that and ultimately give me that thrill that I am seeking. Still recommend this series to crime fiction fans though as I have really enjoyed the two books that I've read.


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