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by K. J. Erickson
St Martin's Minotaur, July 2004
272 pages
ISBN: 031231471X

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Mars Bahr thrives on and feeds off the emotions and turbulence in a murder case. Which may explain why it is taking him a little time to get up to speed since he and his partner Nettie Frisch moved to the Minnesota Cold Case Unit.

Nettie is working her usual computer magic, making all kinds of connections with other states, other jurisdictions and working on getting a multi-state project off the ground. Nettie is doing just fine since the move, but Mars feels at a loose end -- until he comes across the case of Andrea Bergstad, a young girl taken from a convenience store 16 years ago and never found. This resonates for Mars, since his first case involved another young woman clerking at a convenience store, who was killed. He still keeps in touch with that woman's daughter, who witnessed the crime and provided crucial information at the time.

In the process of working this cold case, Mars has to re-examine what has already been done, go back over ground that has been gone over several times already. In some cases, this can cause bad feelings, particularly if the original department has not asked for the Cold Case Unit to come in. Sigvald Sampson is more than happy to give Mars all the help he can. This case has always bothered Sigvald, and he would like to know what happened all those years ago.

ALONE AT NIGHT is a little more thriller/suspense than Erickson's previous Bahr books. The case seems to be connected to a local politician, Alan Campbell. Alan was running for his first political office at the time Andrea Bergstad disappeared. Today, he is a senator with more political clout. There are some coincidences that are difficult to explain; for instance, Campbell's opponent in his first campaign died . . . the same way that a major witness in the Bergstad case died just before she was going to talk to Sigvald. Campbell's luck runs to those kind of coincidences.

There is an interesting discussion in the middle third of the book about the ongoing three hunts for bin Laden -- who is hunting him, why the timing if bin Laden is found will indicate which group found him, and what the political reasons for and consequences of each of the various hunts mean in today's political scene. Very believable in the light of recent events.

Mars' son Chris plays a role in ALONE AT NIGHT, which comes as no surprise to Erickson's readers. While not a pivotal character, he is a delightful child without being too cute for words. Perhaps nicer, more respectful, more mature than most real children his age, but this is fiction, after all.

I can't discuss the end of the book without a major spoiler alert. I will say that I didn't see it coming, and I didn't like it. It makes sense within the context of the reality of the story, it's plausible, it is the way these things happen in the real world . . . but I don't have to like it. I want to know what happens in the next book as a result of this ending.

I've read Erickson's other works (THIRD PERSON SINGULAR, THE DEAD SURVIVORS, and THE LAST WITNESS), and recommend all of them, as well as ALONE AT NIGHT. While it isn't necessary to read them in order, there is a certain rhythm that is best maintained by that order.

Each book has its own tone, its own aura, and ALONE AT NIGHT is darker than Erickson's first two, although not nearly as twisted as THE LAST WITNESS. Erickson is a writer whose talents get more impressive with each read. I eagerly await the next Mars Bahr book.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, May 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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