Collecting the Dead

Book Review - Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope by Todd Henson

Today I want to share a review of another work of fiction I recently finished reading. I do this to encourage everyone to look for inspiration everywhere, not just in photography. Read a novel or a biography. Watch a fantastic movie or a fascinating documentary. You may not initially find anything specific in these things that inspire your photography, but everything we read, watch, or experience changes and shapes us, and over time this will affect and improve your creativity. Exposing yourself to the ideas of others can help you develop your own.

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links, at no extra cost to you. I received my copy of Collecting the Dead from a giveaway at CriminalElement.com, a site for folks who love “mysteries, thrillers & all things killer…”

On to the review:

Collecting the Dead, by Spencer Kope, is a thriller about a special team within the FBI called the Special Tracking Unit, who are known for their unique ability to track down criminals and victims when no one else can. The key to the team is Magnus Craig, who goes by the nickname Steps and has been dubbed by the media “The Human Bloodhound.” He and his partner, Special Agent Jimmy Donovan, work closely in the field, Steps tracking, and Jimmy backing him up. The third member of their team is Diane, who is always working in the background performing research and coordination.

But it turns out Steps is not really a tracker, though he has slowly learned some of those skills over the years. His real skill is an ability that lets him see where people have been, where they’ve walked, what they’ve touched. It’s like an aura of some kind, almost a residue. He calls it shine, and it is the reason he can track like no one else. Of course, as any gift of this sort, it comes with its own set of problems that Steps has learned to deal with. Very few people know of his ability, and he tries to keep it that way. His father knows. His partner Jimmy knows. And the FBI director knows. That’s all.

The book opens with a case to demonstrate Steps’ abilities and how he and his partner work. It also introduces Steps’ sense of humor which surfaces throughout the book to very good effect. It keeps the book from becoming too dark or depressing. It’s a way people in this line of work can cope and it fits in well in the book.

After solving the initial case the book jumps right into the main case, that of a serial killer who comes to be known as the Sad Face Killer for the calling card he leaves at each crime scene. As happens with serial killers, you don’t always know that’s what you have when you first begin investigating. But as evidence mounts, and background searches reveal other victims with the same patterns, it becomes apparent. In Steps case he knows it without a doubt. Every person has their own shine, each unique, each with its own colors and textures, and he sees the killer’s shine at each crime scene. By seeing this shine he finds clues no one else can.

Once he’s seen your shine he always remembers it. If he runs into your trail years later he knows it’s you. This can be a blessing in tracking down killers, but can also be a curse when he’s not able to find the criminal, when they keep alluding him, even with his ability. But this doesn’t happen often.

I loved Kope’s descriptions of shine, how Steps always sees it and over time learned how to tone it down a bit. And how he learned to identify each persons unique shine. Being a photographer who likes to occasionally experiment with infrared photography, I tend to picture shine almost as the unique glow you get with infrared photos, how living things just seem to shine, to glow, in a way they never do in life or in normal photographs. But of course with shine each person has their own unique color and texture, something lacking in an infrared photograph.

The shine is something that is left on physical things, it’s a trail of sorts. But when the killer gets in a truck and drives away the shine disappears in the parking lot. Steps can track it to where the truck was, but after that it’s gone. So there’s still a lot of old fashioned detective work that has to be done to track down both killers and victims. That’s where Jimmy and Diane come in. And that’s what much of the novel focuses on, looking for one more clue, something to get them closer to the killer, while always seeming one step behind.

Sometimes they don’t get there in time. People do die. “We save the ones we can,” they say to each other, trying to believe they do the best they can, trying to believe saving some is enough. But it doesn’t feel like enough to Steps. So he collects the dead, keeping photos of each person he wasn’t able to save, so he never forgets. But he’s tired of collecting the dead. He doesn’t want to add any more photos to his collection.

I really enjoyed this book. Steps was a fascinating character, and perfectly paired with his partner Jimmy. Steps cares about the people he tries to save. It tears him apart when he fails someone. This added a real level of emotion to the story, left me with that sinking feeling when things went wrong. I was easily able to get caught up in the lives of these characters. I wanted to see them succeed, to find the killer, and to do it before he killed another victim. The ending was a very emotional one and left me a little exhausted, but very satisfied. Collecting the Dead was a self-contained story, but also set itself up for a sequel. I strongly suspect I’ll end up reading that one after it’s released.

Let me know what you think of Collecting the Dead if you do read it.