Aerosmith's Rag Doll and Rag Doll by The Four Seasons running through my head while reading this book (not because of any plot points, just because my head is full of musical earworms), Daniel Cole's Ragdoll was a pretty fantastic, page-turning crime novel. It's a rarity when a book like this can surprise me, when my habit of suspecting nearly every single character introduced doesn't irritate me when the crime is solved, but Cole did a great job with this book.
Dogged police detective William Oliver Layton-Fawkes, nicknamed Wolf, has received more than his share of notoriety, most of it more negative than anything else. After catching the suspected "Cremation Killer," London's most prolific serial killer in its history, his reputation went from hero to villain as the trial highlighted manipulation of evidence, police brutality, and suspicions of abuse in his own marriage. When the suspect was acquitted, Wolf's actions wind up getting him suspended and hospitalized in a mental institution, his life a shambles.
When the killer acts again, and Wolf is proven to have been correct all along, he returns to the police force under psychological evaluation and more supervision than he has had in the past. But it's not long after he's handed his most grisly murder case, which the press has labeled "The Ragdoll Murder"the body is made of the dismembered parts of six victims, sewn together like a puppet. As Wolf and his colleagues set out to identify the victims and find the killer, but their work is foiled by the press, particularly Wolf's ex-wife, Andrea, a ruthlessly ambitious reporter. Andrea anonymously receives photographs of the crime scene as well as a purported list of the killer's next six targets, with the dates he plans to kill them. Last on the list: Wolf.
The police force finds themselves in a race to protect the people on the killer's list, but realize they are dealing with a more ingenious and dangerous nemesis than they originally believed, not to mention one willing to use the media to help pressure the police into making mistakes. At the same time, the intensity with which Wolf throws himself into this case threatens to reopen the emotional wounds he suffered during the Cremation Killer case, and has the potential to pit colleagues against colleagues in solving the crime.
Cole balances the crime-solving in this book with a great deal of character development as well as suspense, action, and emotion. Wolf is a fascinating, flawed character I hope to see again, and the relationships with his colleagues which Cole explored were complex and compelling. This is a book which works on all levels, which is often a rarity with crime novels.
It's amazing to think that this is Cole's debut novel, because his storytelling is tremendously focused and on-point. While there was one plot point I didn't love, I enjoyed this book immensely, and if I were anywhere other than my association's annual conference I would have devoured it in a second. Don't be swayed by the unusual musical earworms it spawned in my headpick up Ragdoll if you're a fan of crime novels, because this is one not to be missed.