Author: Steven James
Title: The Knight
FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers returns in this third installation of The Bowers Files, Steven James' series of psychological thrillers. A criminologist specializing in geo-spatial intelligence and crime-mapping techniques, Bowers often finds himself at odds with fellow agents who prefer more standard investigative methods. He also attracts the occasional creative psychopath, such as the Knight, who engages him in a catch-me-if-you-can killing spree.
As the story opens, Bowers approaches the scene of a murder set with ritualistic trappings. The killer has left a message for Bowers, drawing him into the mystery in an uncomfortably personal way. Subsequent murders lead investigators to a medieval manuscript, which they discover the Knight is using as a template for his serial killing. Far from finding this a comfort, Bowers wonders how the modern version is going to end, even as he strives to prevent its fulfillment. The shocking finale should satisfy any reader.
In keeping with its billing as a psychological thriller, the book moves at a brisk pace. Scenes change abruptly, the dialogue is snappy, and the plot twists leave the reader appalled, wondering, and troubled. Readers will readily keep turning pages to discover if or how Bowers will solve this lethal riddle. Don't forget the murder aspect—this is not a book for the weak of stomach. While he concentrates more on the mental horror, James does not flinch from describing the physical torture and mutilation inflicted on victims.
James makes his characters believable. One of the several subplots involves Bowers' stepdaughter, Tessa, an intelligent, independent teenager struggling to find her way after her mother's death the year before. Bowers experiences romantic problems, wanting to move forward after a year or more of widowhood but frustrating himself—and the reader—with inconsistent relational maturity. His struggle seems partly spiritual, partly emotional.
The Knight explores the relationship between justice and truth—do they always go together? Must they be one and the same? Which is more important in a given situation? Is lying ever justified? These questions surface early in the plot as Bowers testifies in the retrial of a serial killer whom he helped convict years before. Will he lie to keep the guilty man in prison, or will he tell the truth and risk letting him go free—knowing the man will victimize others if liberated? The reader will wrestle along with Bowers.
Bowers' story begins in the previously published The Pawn (2007) and The Rook (2008). Followers of the series will not find the same level of spiritual development in Bowers himself in this work. I'm not saying James skipped the spiritual aspect—he more than challenges the reader with the constant reality of evil, the tug-of-war between justice and truth, and numerous choices between right and wrong. But those readers wishing to see Bowers increase his spiritual awareness will have to wait until the next installment, The Bishop (expected to release in summer 2010).
And while you are waiting, reread The Knight. It's the only way you will catch all the clues hinting at the killer's identity before he is finally revealed. Whodunit lovers will appreciate James' skill at ratcheting up the tension while deepening the mystery.
**This review first published on October 22, 2009.