Angel's Tip

By Alafair Burke

Harper. 352 p. $23.95


Reviewed by Caroline Berson


The scenario may be a cliche - a female detective looking for respect in a male-dominated field, a crotchety boss who resents a promotion, a sordid family history - but Alafair Burke's latest novel,

Angel's Tip

, quickly turns into an engaging, whirlwind adventure.

Written as a sequel to last summer's

Dead Connection

, this second chapter picks up the story of Ellie Hatcher and can either stand alone or continue Burke's earlier work.

Angel's Tip

opens with the murder of a young girl after a night of clubbing in the meatpacking district of Manhattan. Her body is discovered along Hatcher's regular morning run, and, as the first detective on the scene, she gets the case. But things are complicated by her controversial promotion and her new partner.

Eventually, one murder turns out to be linked to another, and, after a tip from the father of a cold-case murder victim, the precocious Hatcher turns her attention to tracking down a serial killer.

A serial killer with a hair fetish.

Descriptions of crime scenes are gruesome and vivid, such as when Hatcher comments that "the hatch marks in the victim's skin had the telltale look of sliced Styrofoam." As a former deputy district attorney and current professor of criminal law at Hofstra University's School of Law in New York, Burke knows what she is talking about. More important, she balances layperson and professional cop talk without stifling the plot.

Hatcher is a former pre-law student, so her voice has depth and dimension rising from her knowledge of both aspects of law enforcement. Her pithy dialogue ranges from crude sexual comments to a firm grasp of business. At one point, she tells a witness that his friend won't cover him forever: "[T]omorrow Nick Warden will be selling short and trading swap futures in his office next door." She's not the most believable character - incredibly attractive, smart, and ethical, too - but she is a likable one, humanized by her failed relationships and family drama.

Burke's novel has a current veneer. Pop-culture references call attention to issues such as whether or not to remove a victim's MySpace profile before reporters have an opportunity to use it as material for their articles. But the novel is not without its hokey aspects. One is the involvement of the spiritual world; the connections Hatcher makes between the recent victims and two cold cases are brought to her attention by a phone call from a former victim's father visited in a dream by his deceased daughter.

Even so,

Angel's Tip

provides intriguing analysis of the serial killer's motives. Hatcher describes the difference between various methods of strangulation as well as the killer's pattern of attack and choice of victim. The connections she draws are neither far-fetched nor obvious.

The end of the novel leaves the reader with one question: When's the next Alafair Burke book coming out?

Caroline Berson, a senior at Yale University, is a former Inquirer intern.