Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope

e19d3f9f4d4409ea87f6_Collecting_the_dead.jpg
e19d3f9f4d4409ea87f6_Collecting_the_dead.jpg

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope (St. Martin's Press, 2016)

Collecting the Dead is one of those rare books that comes along and just knocks the reader off his/her feet. Not only are the characters intriguing, the plot is engaging, and Kope's prose is elegantly written, taking this novel to a higher level than the average suspense story.

The main character, Magnus “Steps” Craig is an FBI agent who has an uncommon skill that only a few people in the world know about. He can detect where a perpetrator and victim have been by seeing their “shine,” a term that Steps uses to explain seeing a person's aura in distinct colors. By seeing and feeling a victim's shine at a crime scene, he can sense whether that victim's heart is still beating or whether he/she has lost his/her life. He can also see the places the perpetrator has been, whether it is inside a car, in a home, or at a gravesite. The only people who know about Steps' special ability are his father, the director of the FBI, and Steps' partner, Special Agent Jimmy Donovan. In order to keep his gift a secret, Steps often pretends to be tracking the ground, looking for clues, staging a search. After all, if the press got hold of his unusual system for finding people, where would his credibility be?

Sign Up for E-News

Steps used his unusual tracking system for the first time when he was only fourteen years old. He helped to find two missing boys who had wandered off at night. The gifted tracker explains, “Someone said, 'How you gonna track them in the dark?' and I just said, “step by step.' Thirty minutes later I found the boys huddled in the hollow of a mossy old stump, scared to death but otherwise unharmed.” (p. 7) Steps notes that from this moment forward everyone in his life, including his mother, has called him “Steps,” rather than Magnus, his very unusual first name.

Steps has a sense of humor similar to that of Nelson DeMille's irreverent John Corey, and the quirkiness of Cormoran Strike, protagonist of Robert Galbraith's (aka J.K. Rowling) series about the brilliant, one-legged detective. But Steps carries a darkness in him that adds to the multi-layered character; he was a childhood victim of an event that is only hinted at in this novel, and is terrified of the woods as a result of his own experiences. Yet, many of the searches in which he must engage as an FBI tracker take him into forests that terrify him and remind him of his horrifying past. In many ways the reader senses that Steps suffers from post traumatic stress, coupled with his sense of personal responsibility in tracking his victims. This makes Steps as vulnerable emotionally as the victims for whom he searches.

Another facet of Craig's personality that is unusual in suspense novels, is the depths of despair that he feels when his team is too late to save a victim. His partner, Jimmy, does his best to stave off the darkness that Steps often feels with these words of consolation, “We save the ones we can.” (p.11) This phrase is repeated frequently as Steps and Jimmy investigate their latest case, tracking a serial killer, whom is dubbed the “Sad Face Killer.”

Steps expresses the pain that sears him upon finding an earlier victim, Jess Parker, whom he knew in high school. He states, “She's burned into my soul, Jess Parker is, seared and smoldering and raw, a hurt that everyone in the community felt and one that I could do nothing about. She's just gone and the world is unjust and I have to look at the human wreckage floating in the wake of such monsters. Over and over and over I have to look, and I feat the monsters are looking back. They're with me in the lonely watches of the night, when sleep has fled and all that remains are the images.” (p. 52)

In fact, Steps keeps two scrapbooks that maintain those images; one is black and contains the photos of those victims who died during an investigation, and the other is a white album, in which he keeps the pictures of those he and Jimmy have found alive, the hikers, children who have wandered away, and victims of maniacs who were located before they could be killed. Steps torments himself with the photos of his failures, dwelling on the darkness of defeat. However, Jimmy protects Steps' tormented soul by begging him to concentrate on the white album, their joint success stories.

Jimmy, a family man, is also a complex individual and the perfect partner for Steps, who doesn't usually carry a gun and verges on pacifism during a chase. Jimmy is the Steps' protector while in the field, which puts a double whammy on Jimmy as a tracker. He simultaneously searches for the bad guy while looking out for the good guy.

As mentioned previously Spencer Kope is a gifted author who through his characters writes passages that give the reader pause to contemplate while racing through this fast paced novel. One such passage has to do with the use of profanity, which Steps provides us with the dictionary definition “outside the temple,” or taken to mean something that desecrates what is holy. (p. 99) Jimmy, notes Steps, is opposed to using profanity out of respect for what he refers to as the “higher mind.” Steps explains, “He's told me repeatedly through the years that profanity is the refuge of a simple mind, and that people who swear excessively lack the imagination to think of anything better. He once told me that profanity pushes the mind into the sewer of human wretchedness and drags the soul along for company.” (p. 99)

This interlude regarding the definition of profanity is fascinating in that it reveals Jimmy's disdain for a filthy mind and helps the reader to understand the quality of Jimmy's character is truly trying to “drain the swamp” of human filth and depravity. It also gives us pause to consider why people, including ourselves, resort to profanity in certain situations.

Finally, throughout my reading of Collecting the Dead, I could not refrain from reflecting on the use of the term “shine” as it appeared in Stephen King's 1977 breakout classic The Shining. In that twisted tale, a little boy named Danny Torrance, possesses a gift/curse referred to by his much older friend, Dick Halloran, as “the shining.” In King's novel, young Danny has psychic abilities that allow him to see past events and participate in other supernatural moments, while stuck with his parents in a haunted hotel, The Overlook, located in the Canadian Rockies. In 2013 King gave us Doctor Sleep in which readers learned what had happened to Danny as he stumbled into adulthood, also a victim of his fractured childhood.

Kope took the kernel of the idea of what it means to have a “shining” and made it his own in FBI Tracker Steps Craig. By allowing Steps to employ his psychic ability as a tool in sleuthing, Kope gives us a unique hero, who empathizes with victims and loathes the monsters. It's like turning a prism in the light to see another vibrant color that excites those who relish suspense novels with a tinge of the supernatural in them.

The best news of all is that Collecting the Dead leaves the reader right where we want to be; with the promise of a sequel, A Shine So Cold, which is slated to appear in June 2107. In the meantime, if you have not yet read Kope's thriller, it will keep you distracted on a cold, dark, winter's night.

Beth Moroney, former English teacher and administrator in the Edison Public School District, specialized in teaching Creative Writing and Journalism. Recently Moroney published Significant Anniversaries of Holocaust/Genocide Education and Human/Civil Rights, available through the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust. A passionate reader, Moroney is known for recommending literature to students, teachers, parents, and the general public for over forty years. Moroney can be contacted at trackdak19@hotmail.com.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Denville

10-Year Old Boy Battling Cancer Receives Generous Donation From Randolph Hockey Family

May 20, 2018

RANDOLPH, NJ- While the inter-town hockey battles on the ice between Randolph and Roxbury are fierce at every age level, when it comes to real life battles off the ice there is no hesitation to offer help to their neighbor.

Such is the case with a recent gesture of unity and support from the Randolph Varsity hockey team, when they came together to deliver good wishes and ...

TAPinto Featured Franchisee: Steve Lenox of TAPinto Paterson

This week's feature will focus on TAPinto Paterson's franchisee, Steve Lenox. Find out how the current owner of a public affairs firm went from a former State Director for Senator Frank Lautenberg to a proud TAPinto franchisee for New Jersey's third largest city.

 

Q. When did you join TAPinto.net?

I joined TAPinto.net in September, ...

Join the Fight, Morris: Water + 7 Days = Mosquitoes

May 23, 2018

With the sun finally expected to show itself starting tomorrow and over the Memorial Day weekend, Morris County residents can reduce the number of all mosquitoes, including the aggressive Asian Tiger variety, in their own backyards by taking action now.

The ankle-attacking, aggressive Asian Tiger variety transmits viral disease and bites all day long, unlike many other varieties that come out ...

May is Older Americans Month: Time to Give Back to Morris County’s Seniors Every Day!

May 23, 2018

The June 5th Primary has entered the home stretch.  For the first time in 8 weeks, there is no where I need to appear other than at the doorstep of a registered voter to ask for their support in the election booth.

Since I decided to pursue the open Freeholder seat in March, I have been all across Morris County.  I have been out and away from my family every day since, attending such ...

SURVIVING A STROKE: Quick Medical Response Gives Mom Her Life Back

Carotid artery dissection. It’s one of the most common causes of stroke in younger adults.

And while you might not associate the word “stroke” with younger patients, the condition – if not treated immediately – could lead to paralysis and even death.

Lindsey Singh can attest to the importance of immediacy. The 31-year-old mother of two from Flanders experienced ...

'Turning Off the Morning News' brings comic twist

‘Turning Off the Morning News’ tackles today’s issues with a comic twist

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, N J – Despite the late night comics, no one quite captures the insanity of the political/social status world like Christopher Durang.

His latest play, “Turning off the Morning News” hit the ground running.  John Pankow as Jimmy addresses the audience, ...

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Sustains Timeless Appeal

SUMMIT, NJ – The Summit Playhouse provides a stellar production of a much loved classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The Harper Lee novel, later a Gregory Peck film and now a stage production, retains all the warmth, intensity and integrity that made it such an appealing hit in the 1960s. And there will be a new production on Broadway in December with a script by Aaron Sorkin ...

AtlantiCast

AtlantiCast: Episode 15

On this week’s AtlantiCast, learn some important tips for controlling and avoiding diabetes from an Atlantic Health System expert, see how Atlantic Health is advancing cutting-edge research, hear what’s being done to keep health care environmentally friendly and much more!

 

The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani (Ballentine Books, 2005)

            The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani, a New York Times best selling author, was recommended to me by a young woman who actually came from the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, the place where the novel is set. “The author did such a wonderful job of describing how the town actually is,” said the young lady.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press, 2018)

            What is the “final frontier” on the Earth's surface? Many people would say Alaska, the 49th state, which was added to the United States fifty years ago. Once one has traveled to that remote land, it is impossible to forget the magnificence of the terrain and beasts. Floating by ship in Glacier Bay, surrounded by ...