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Jess Walter's Over Tumbled Graves is not another novel
about serials killers! It is not a psychological novel about why
someone became a serial killer. It is not a mystery about who
is the serial killer. It a not police procedural about how to
catch a serial killer. Nor is it a courtroom drama about how to
prosecute the possible serial killer. It is none of these. Jess
Walter's Over Tumbled Graves is, however, a novel about
the impact that a series of murders have on the police officers,
both corporately and individually, both professionally and privately,
who must deal with a possible serial killer.
Over Tumbled Graves is a peek into the professional and
private lives of police officers. When a series of murdered prostitutes
are found bearing common distinctive traits in a usually quiet
park in Spokane Washington, a serial killer is suspected and red
lights start flashing. As egotistical FBI agents, bickering criminal
investigators, and the national media descend on the precinct,
the department struggles to maintain a semblance of functional
normalcy while staying one step ahead of their harsh media critics
and swimming in waters seemingly way over their professional heads.
As pressure to catch the perpetuator increase, the emotional and
psychological stress of overwork and bad press takes its toll.
The department becomes a pressure cooker where old grievances
erupt, relationships dissolve, careers end, and new passions emerge.
The polished shield of professionalism begins to tarnish and eventually
Jess Walter knows the crime beat. He is a former journalist for
the Washington Post and freelance writer for a number of other
national newspapers. His non-fiction works include, Every Knee Shall Bow,
which was made into the NBC miniseries, "Ruby Ridge."
He was a reporter on the "Pacific Northwest Serial Killer"
case which also involved the murder of prostitutes. The depth
of his knowledge about police-media relations and the detailed
accuracy with which he records the investigative process is exacting.
Mr. Walter knows what he is writing about and has years of experience
and the non-fiction writing credentials to prove it.
The characters in this work, however in my opinion, range from
very believable and complex to unrealistic and quite hollow. As
the daughter of a former police officer, I can say that I felt
as if I knew some of these officers. I have heard first hand their
accounts (as well as their wives') about the impact of professional
stress and trauma on their personal lives. Alan Dupree, the senior
officer on the case, is very realistically portrayed. He is emotionally
and physically wounded and waiting to retire. While struggling
to cope with this new assignment, the new stress and his own difficulties
slowly erode his relationships and private life. (He is every
bit as real to me as my father's friends.) I have also heard my
father describe young rookie officers, like Teague and Spivey,
and heard him bemoan their inexperienced blindness and professional
ambition as well as their occasional uncanny insights. In academia,
I have experienced "know-it-all" experts like McDaniel
and Blanton. Their over inflated egos and their petty yet vindictive
squabbles are renown.
Sadly, the one character that fails and failed "big time"
for me is the main character, Caroline Mabry. She is portrayed
as part-Rambo and part-superhero(ine). Like the unrealistic star
of a TV series, she is too often at the site of all the action,
and too often doing incredibly, daring, and dangerous stunts.
One example in chapter one has her hanging upside down over a
waterfall to catch a criminal. (Many of her actions, in real police
work, would have gotten her "written up" and severely
reprimanded.) She was not at all real for me.
Walter also did an excellent job portraying the many ancillary
characters. Rae-Lynn, the prostitute with a heart of gold, who
can look death in the face, but can not walk away from drugs.
Lenny Ryan, the ex-con, seeking the murderer of his girlfriend,
a former prostitute. Kevin Verloc, the young former officer forced
into a wheelchair and security work by a criminal's bullet.
Jess Walter has proven himself to be a fine fiction writer with
Over Tumbled Graves. He has all the professional knowledge
and writing skills to be a best-selling novelist. My only critique
is that he should strive to make his main character as real and
human as he does his supporting characters. Superheroes work well
on film, and yes, this would make a good movie, but if realism
is a book's goal, I expect reality all the way.
© 2001 Su Terry
Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S.
in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S.
in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University,
and a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological
Seminary. She is currently completing a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual
Direction from Sacred Heart University (July 2001). She is a Licensed
Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor
in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY
Interests in Mental Health: I am interested in the interplay between
psychology and spirituality. My current research focuses on the
role of hormonal fluctuation during puberty, pregnancy, and peri-menopause
as a stimuli for mystical experiences. Through the study of autobiographical
accounts of the mystical experiences of "historically accepted"
female Christian mystics and additional biographical information,
I am analyzing the connection between the onset of mystical experiences
and biological data/symptomology for the potential existence of
hormonal fluctuation or irregularity. If this sounds like an unusual
topic, nota bene how many medieval female mystics began
having "vision" on or about the age of 40!
This review first appeared online Sept 1, 2001