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Reviewed by Caitlyn Lynch for Readers' Favorite
Speak For The Dead is the seventh book in Christopher Valen’s police procedural series about St. Paul homicide detective John Santana. Born in Colombia and exiled after the powerful Calí cartel killed his parents (for reasons unspecified in this book, but which I’m guessing were covered in the previous books in the series), Santana is an intriguing protagonist. Struggling with survivor’s guilt after his lover’s death, Santana has done his best to bury himself in his work in an effort to subsume his grief. When the bodies of two young women are found in caves alongside the Mississippi River, Santana realizes he may have a serial killer on his hands. Still, the clues point in strange and disparate directions, and the one person who seems to be willing to help him solve the case is also the one person he knows for certain is a sociopath. As Santana investigates, he tugs on threads that may uncover a conspiracy of unimaginable proportions that some people will do anything to keep under wraps.
Although I hadn’t read any of the previous books in the series, it was no impediment to thoroughly enjoying this one. I found myself curious enough about Santana’s past that I will likely put the rest of the books in the series on my reading list. Side characters were well-drawn, leaving me with a clear picture of them; Reyna Tran in particular was absolutely fascinating - and someone whom I suspect may well appear as an antagonist in a later book, since her eventual clash with Santana seems inevitable. Likewise, the plot of the book was thoroughly engrossing. Enough verifiable fact was woven in with what I sincerely hope is fiction to make it quite terrifyingly believable. News events such as the alleged ‘live mike’ phone hacks of certain personnel in positions of authority and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370 in 2014 add plausibility to events which might otherwise seem unlikely in combination.
I genuinely had no idea who the killer was right up until the reveal. Though a number of clues had been cleverly placed throughout the text, there were also a number of completely plausible alternate theories. The author did an excellent job of leading us through Santana’s investigative process as the detective thoroughly researches and discards leads. The secondary sub-plot of Santana’s past intersecting with his present was neatly woven in as well. I’d wondered where a few plot lines were leading, but they were tied up very neatly in the end. Christopher Valen has clearly done his research into police investigations, corporate espionage, vehicular and phone hacking and other complex subjects. I very much enjoyed Speak For The Dead. I would highly recommend it to fans of James Patterson, John Grisham, and other top legal and crime thrillers; readers who enjoy these great authors will not be disappointed.