Book Review: UNSUB by Meg Gardiner
Also by this author: Into the Black Nowhere
Series: UNSUB #1
Published by Dutton on June 27th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Also in this series: Into the Black Nowhere
Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB is my first read for the 2018 Beat the Backlist Challenge and I have to say I don’t think I could have possibly picked a better book to start with. UNSUB is a riveting serial killer thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat from the first page to the last, and not only that, but it will also have you screaming for the next book in the series because it ends with a cliffhanger that will blow your mind.
UNSUB follows a cold case that features a serial killer called The Prophet that appears to have been inspired by the Zodiac Killer. The Prophet terrorized residents of the San Francisco Bay area for several years, leaving behind a trail of bodies, each with the ancient symbol for Mercury etched into its flesh, and accompanied by cryptic messages that were seemingly impossible to decode. Not only did The Prophet excel in committing increasingly gruesome murders, but he also took immense pleasure in playing mind games with both the families of the victims and with local law enforcement, particularly the lead investigator on the case, Mack Hendrix. The Prophet was never caught, but he left a trail of wreckage in his wake, including Mack Hendrix, who lets the killer get too far into his head and ends up in a psych ward for six months. By the time he is released, his career and his marriage are over, and his relationship with his daughter Caitlyn appears to be on the same path.
Fast forward more than twenty years and bodies suddenly start turning up in the Bay area again, complete with the Mercury symbol and more cryptic messages. All signs point to either a return of The Prophet or else they have a copycat killer on their hands. It’s all hands on deck to stop the killer as soon as possible, only this time it’s not Mack Hendrix on the case. Instead, it’s his daughter, Caitlyn Hendrix, who like her father, has joined the police force. Caitlyn is a rookie cop who typically works in narcotics, but because she possesses extensive knowledge of The Prophet’s original case, as well as access to the biggest resource of all, her father, she ends up being assigned to the new case.
Caitlyn immediately seeks out her father, but he is understandably reluctant to help. This case has already destroyed his life once and he doesn’t want to let it in his head again. And he most certainly doesn’t want The Prophet to target his daughter and ruin her life as well. Caitlyn chooses to ignore her father’s pleas that she stay far away from the case. She is determined to capture this killer and bring him to justice, not just because of all of the murders he committed, but also because he haunted her childhood and destroyed her family as well.
Is this killer actually The Prophet returned or are the police just dealing with a clever copycat? Whoever it is, can Caitlyn find and stop him? And most importantly, can she work the case without letting this killer get inside her head, thus avoiding the mistakes her father made?
There’s so much to love about this book. Serial killer cases have always fascinated me, as do shows like Criminal Minds, where so much emphasis is placed on behavioral analysis and building profiles of the killers law enforcement is trying to catch. In many ways, UNSUB reads like an episode of Criminal Minds, which made it a great fit for me.
I loved the pacing, the constant building of suspense as more and more bodies piled up, along with more and more of those cryptic messages. The author’s use of those messages was actually one of my favorite parts of the book. At times, I felt just as desperate to decipher them as Caitlyn and her team did. There was something so familiar about them, yet their overall meaning felt just out of reach, and it was maddening at times but, man, did it keep me turning the pages!
Caitlyn Hendrix was also a big draw for me. I really liked this character and thought Gardiner did a wonderful job fleshing her out and giving her more depth than I was initially expecting from this kind of book. She’s smart and tough, with great instincts for her job, but then there’s also a touch of vulnerability to her because of the way The Prophet case has impacted most of her life and strained her relationship with her father. I loved the exploration of the father-daughter relationship that we get throughout UNSUB too. I think it adds a layer of emotional depth to the story without distracting from the serial killer case itself. That personal touch really took the book to the next level for me and made it a much stronger read than if it had been a straight procedural.
That cliffhanger ending! I’m kind of kidding here because the cliffhanger in UNSUB is actually brilliant, but I just hate cliffhangers so much. Thankfully I was approved for an ARC of the second book in the series so I was able to jump right in and continue this gripping story.
UNSUB is truly an outstanding read. If you’re into serial killer thrillers, you won’t want to miss this one!
A riveting psychological thriller inspired by the never-caught Zodiac Killer, about a young detective determined to apprehend the serial murderer who destroyed her family and terrorized a city twenty years earlier.
Caitlin Hendrix has been a Narcotics detective for six months when the killer at the heart of all her childhood nightmares reemerges: the Prophet. An UNSUB—what the FBI calls an unknown subject—the Prophet terrorized the Bay Area in the 1990s and nearly destroyed her father, the lead investigator on the case.
The Prophet’s cryptic messages and mind games drove Detective Mack Hendrix to the brink of madness, and Mack’s failure to solve the series of ritualized murders—eleven seemingly unconnected victims left with the ancient sign for Mercury etched into their flesh—was the final nail in the coffin for a once promising career.
Twenty years later, two bodies are found bearing the haunting signature of the Prophet. Caitlin Hendrix has never escaped the shadow of her father’s failure to protect their city. But now the ruthless madman is killing again and has set his sights on her, threatening to undermine the fragile barrier she rigidly maintains for her own protection, between relentless pursuit and dangerous obsession.
Determined to decipher his twisted messages and stop the carnage, Caitlin ignores her father’s warnings as she draws closer to the killer with each new gruesome murder. Is it a copycat, or can this really be the same Prophet who haunted her childhood? Will Caitlin avoid repeating her father’s mistakes and redeem her family name, or will chasing the Prophet drag her and everyone she loves into the depths of the abyss?
This review is killing it and making me want to read it even more. The title “Unsub” rings of Criminal Minds and I just have to read this book now. *adding to TBR* GREAT REVIEW!
Thanks! Yeah, it reminded me a lot of Criminal Minds, which I love anyway, so it was a great fit for me 🙂
Wow! This sounds amazing! A copycat killer of the Zodiac killer, definitely sounds like it would be an intense read. Thanks for sharing your thought on this, I had not seen it before now. But I will certainly be in the look out for it now. Great review!!
Thanks! Yes, it was very intense. I couldn’t put it down once I started it.
When I first saw this review pop up in my inbox, the first thing I thought of was Criminal Minds! That show totally disturbs me, but it can be so interesting. This book sounds awesome and so intense, and now I want to know what the cliffhanger is!
And that’s exactly the way the book was. The crimes themselves were so disturbing, but the psychological aspects of the case – watching the agents create a profile of the unsub, etc., were so fascinating.
This is the second time this week I have seen this one. It sounds like something I would love. I totally need to get this one ASAP. Great review!
Thanks! It was a pretty intense read for me, as was the sequel which I also just finished. Hope you enjoy it if you decide to read it.
ok… I just need to say something first… Yay! first #Beatthebacklist review… GOOOOO DEWWWWWEEEYYY DRAGOOOOONS.
[thank you 🙂 ]
I admire that you could give it a 5-star review cliffhanger and all 🙂
That tells me that though I don’t like crime much I SHOULD read this book
Woo hoo! Go Dragons! I hope to have at least a couple more backlist reviews before the end of the month. And yeah, it was a pretty fascinating read. The crimes were certainly disturbing but the psychology of it all was so interesting.
Oh, I’m so glad you loved this one – I did too! I STILL need the sequel though. I’m fascinated by serial killer books and shows too. 🙂
The sequel is amazing too. I think Meg Gardiner just became an auto-buy author for me.
I watch so much true crime TV and listen to so many true crime podcasts that I don’t know why I haven’t read this book. I think I told you, but I’ve had this book sitting on my shelves since June (my library is very generous). I assumed that this was a stand-alone so I guess I’ll wait until the sequel comes out. Cliffhangers are the death of me!
Right? I’m so glad I waited and read it until the ARCs for the sequel became available. I definitely would not have wanted to wait long to continue with the story.
Wow, you had me at ‘serial killer thriller’. This sounds so good, glad you enjoyed it! I’m adding it to my wishlist.
It was excellent and I just finished the sequel and loved that too. Definitely recommend both if you’re into serial killer thrillers!
Thank you very much for a readable, detailed review that let me know exactly what the book was about without providing spoilers:)
You’re welcome 🙂
It is always motivating when you start a challenge off with a great book. I really like the sound of this one. I am pickier these days about serial killer fiction than I used to be, but occasionally one draws my attention. This one definitely does. I am glad you enjoyed this one so much!
I’m the same way. I had heard all of the hype about this one but kept putting it off because my luck with this kind of book can be hit or miss. Finally, I just couldn’t resist anymore and in this case, I’m glad I caved, lol.
I somehow missed this one and it’s right up my alley, too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it, Suzanne!
You’re welcome! If you ending up reading it, I hope you enjoy it!
AHHHHH, well I got sucked into the second one and now I am thinking I need to go back to this one! Isn’t this series AWESOME?
Yes, you definitely want to go back and read UNSUB. The case itself is riveting, plus there’s the more in-depth look at Caitlyn’s backstory. It’s a fantastic series and I hope we don’t have to wait too long for the next book!