Review: A whodunit that combines romance and serial killings


“The Tip Line,” by Vanessa Cuti (Crooked Lane)

Virginia Carey’s two best friends were married and pregnant, but at age 30, she was single, “drinking wine every night,” she says, “while I swiped my way through online dating sites.”

“I just wanted to get married. Start my life like anyone else,” she declares in the opening paragraph of Vanessa Cuti’s debut novel, “The Tip Line.”

So Virginia takes a job at the local police department, “the perfect place,” her mother says, “to find a nice man.”

Virginia’s job: answer the department’s tip line telephone, make nice with the crackpots, and pass along anything promising to the detective division.

Before long, she is smitten with Detective Charlie Ford. He’s drawn to her, too, but before he even takes her out, she decides she is in love and concocts an elaborate fantasy about the life they will have together.

That comes to an abrupt end when the police chief, Declan Brady, expressed interest in her. Without missing a beat, she drops Charlie and transfers her fantasy to Declan.

Most of the tips Virginia receives are worthless, but then a woman named Verona calls to report that the body of a woman has been dumped at a nearby beach.

After the body is recovered, Verona calls back repeatedly, each time offering more details. Verona, who works for an escort service, claims that several more of her fellow workers have gone missing and fears they have been murdered. When police find more bodies on the beach, they realize they are dealing with a serial killer.

The plot takes a turn when Verona calls again, this time reporting that members of the police department take part in depraved sex parties with sex workers — and that one of the officers, who she does not name, is the killer.

Virginia can’t bring herself to believe it. No way the nice policemen she has met — and certainly not Charlie or Declan — are depraved killers. For the rest of the novel, she struggles with her denial and her desire for Declan as the body count rises.

The novel was inspired by Long Island’s Gilgo Beach serial killer case, which remains unsolved. The publisher is promoting the book as a thriller, but it is far from a traditional one. Rather, it is a superbly well-written literary novel told from the point of view of a woman with a runaway fantasy life and an obsession with finding a husband no matter the cost. ___

Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”

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