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Deliberate Duplicity
One by one, dead bodies are being found at different points along the Constitution Trail, where abandoned railroad tracks once ran through the “Twin Cities” of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. The work of a calculating, methodical killer, each body is posed on the ground with the eyes manipulated so they remain wide open – witnesses who cannot testify to what they’ve seen. David Rohlfing’s debut novel, Deliberate Duplicity (River Grove Books, January 5, 2021) explores the twisted, vengeful mind of a serial killer, and follows dedicated detective Sasha Frank, who is hell-bent on solving the mystery behind this string of gruesome crimes. A complicated web of clues leaves Sasha and his team with more questions than answers: What’s the killer’s motive? And how are the victims connected to one another? As the story begins to unravel, the ordinarily calm and collected Sasha begins to feel the immense pressure of the case. Will he be able to solve the mystery before time runs out, and bring justice to all who were affected?
In this debut novel, a meticulously researched police procedural set in modern-day Bloomington, Ill., a team of all-too-human detectives squares off against a serial killer in a cat-and-mouse game that builds tension until the last page. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of "Fred," a mysterious sociopath, and a team led by senior detective Sasha Frank, painstakingly investigating a series of murders related by method—even though the victims seem to have no connection with each other. The police, aided by careful forensics, delve into the personal lives of the victims, until a surprise clue sets the deeply introspective Frank onto the right path.

Rohlfing has the police procedural formula down pat: each crime scene comes across in crisp detail, and the reader is right there with the detectives as they examine every detail of each body. He also shows us the techniques Frank uses to tease out the backgrounds of the victims, even down to how picked locks are investigated. Forensic fans will revel in the comprehensive autopsy details and how they interact with the overall investigation. Occasionally the reader will struggle to recall a character who hasn’t been seen in a while, but the main investigators move smoothly through each murder until the end.

Even among the technical details, the characters still shine as individuals. Detective Frank comes across with a rich personal life, including a girlfriend, two ex-wives, and grandchildren who expect his attention. Scenes where Frank doubts his junior partner’s competence and soothes a prickly medical examiner lend a welcome air of verisimilitude. The author also gives the criminals backstories and their own personal arcs, so their ultimate fates are heartbreaking—they’re not just cardboard villains. The fully realized characters and the impeccably staged investigative scenes guarantee satisfaction to any aficionado of police detective mysteries.

Takeaway: Fans of the traditional police procedural will rejoice in these well-limned investigations, populated by a cast of vibrantly drawn detectives and criminals.

Great for fans of: J.J. Marric’s Commander Gideon series, Joseph Wambaugh, Ed McBain.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-