Badlands - Richard Montanari An excellent police procedural involving sleight-of-hand magic and games. The setting is familiar to me, so that was fun. The killer is the son of a magician who lives in an old mansion where he maintains a passion for puzzles and murder. (All of the clues point to a puzzle maniac.) An expert in disguise, he preys on runaway girls whom he lures into the hidden passageways of the old house where he fails to understand why they don’t appreciate his ministrations before he kills (sacrifices, really) them as part of his Seven Wonders.

Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balazano are competent and what begins as the investigation of a cold case turns into a very hot one indeed. The gradual uncovering of geographical clues and fitting them together into a tangram was clever. The partners work well together even with their own demons, and it was refreshing to have partners of the opposite sex who didn’t feel it necessary to tangle in the sheets. Not that I have anything against that, it’s just hard to make it realistic and solve crimes at the same time.

It was also fun to recognize Philadelphia landmarks where I went to school. The first nine-tenths of the book were really quite good, but much like chess where the endgame is usually the most difficult, the denouement left me slightly unsatisfied and felt rushed. Everything is tied together too neatly and unnecessarily in the last few pages.

Nevertheless, I stayed up too late to finish this book.

Whether I give 3 or 4 stars to a book I like often depends more on what time of day it is, if I have papers to grade, if the sun is shining, the outside temperature, if I've just eaten, etc., so let's consider this 3.567498 stars which I will round up to four.