Book Review: The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
Violet Ambrose is grappling with two major issues: Jay Heaton and her morbid secret ability. While the sixteen-year-old is confused by her new feelings for her best friend since childhood, she is more disturbed by her “power” to sense dead bodies—or at least those that have been murdered. Since she was a little girl, she has felt the echoes that the dead leave behind in the world… and the imprints that attach to their killers.
Violet has never considered her strange talent to be a gift; it mostly just led her to find the dead birds her cat had tired of playing with. But now that a serial killer has begun terrorizing her small town, and the echoes of the local girls he’s claimed haunt her daily, she realizes she might be the only person who can stop him.
Despite his fierce protectiveness over her, Jay reluctantly agrees to help Violet on her quest to find the murderer—and Violet is unnerved to find herself hoping that Jay’s intentions are much more than friendly. But even as she’s falling intensely in love, Violet is getting closer and closer to discovering a killer… and becoming his prey herself.
As soon as I read the synopsis, I couldn’t wait to read The Body Finder and I wasn’t disappointed. While I bring up some negative points in my review, these were mostly issues that came up whilst looking back rather than things that bothered me as I was reading.
A couple of points I have hidden as white text, as they contain spoilers
The Body Finder has a fascinating concept, that untimely deaths leave behind an echo which is imprinted onto the killer. I’ve read (and loved) many books where the protagonist can see or talk to ghosts, but I’ve not come across a character with this type of connection to the dead before. I loved that every echo was unique and took on a different form, one victim’s echo was an oily sheen, another, the gentle tinkling of bells.
Spaced throughout the book are some unsettling chapters narrated from the killer’s point of view. These worked well at heightening the tension at specific moments and a couple of times allowed Derting to play with the reader. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel the killer was as well-developed as he should have been. What were his motives? His name, his background? How does he kill his victims? How do these two men find each other? How many girls has he killed? We sadly only ever skim the very surface of this character. What I wanted was a dark, complex and frighteningly realistic murderer, what I got felt more like a standard paint-by-numbers serial killer. Given that The Body Finder seems to be aimed at older readers, I do think Derting played it a little too safe here.
Violet wasn’t quite the practical, tough-cookie I like my heroines to be (she has several foolish moments), but she doesn’t get too angsty or depressed about her situation either. She does spend way too much time agonising over her own feelings for Jay, but it’s more of a sort-yourself-out-girl-and-stop-being-so-pathetic self talk rather than a sighing-longingly-over-Jay’s-body kind of thing. I was definitely rooting for the two of them. I felt Derting conveyed how close they were, their ease around one another, nicely. It was obviously they cared a lot for each other. But I have to admit, once the inevitable happened, I found them slightly less compelling. Partly because Jay displayed a possessive side I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, but mostly because the main story line took a back seat in favor of Violet and Jay’s ‘homework sessions’. Even for a romance junkie like me, it got frustrating.
There were several inconsistencies, which nagged at me. The killer admits he ‘gets of’ on the hunt, the thrill of the chase, but then later gets angry when a girl fights back and runs, stating that he likes them passive. In the first abduction the killer talks about treading carefully, gaining the girl’s trust. This makes sense, until we learn that he is a cop. His uniform automatically generates trust, and girls would have no qualms about getting into a police car (which we see, when the killer picks up a drunk girl of the road). These contradictions seem to be explained once we discover that there are two killers, except that Derting makes it clear that it is always the cop who adducts the girls and dumps the girls, and it is his thoughts we have been reading all along.*End spoiler*
The Body Finder definitely had its ridiculous, cliché moments. Jay’s sudden ‘hotness’ was way over the top, as every girl at school starts following him around and fighting over him (yet the reader still doesn’t know what he looks like). It’s not a particularly flattering portrayal of young girls. I was also rather bemused by the idea that murdered animals felt the need to be buried in a little animal cemetery before they could be ‘at peace’. On a more serious note, there was a particular scene involving Grady at a party, that I felt was handled poorly.
However, I did like that Violet’s ability was something she was born with, a natural part of her that she didn’t have to hide from her family and her best friend. It meant her parents, and her father in particular, could offer support and have more of an active presence than you see in a lot of YA. Though I would have liked to have seen more of them, it was also great that Violet had several supportive female friends as well.
The ending felt rushed and a little clumsy and Derting doesn’t quite get the balance right between murder mystery and high-school romance, but I still very much enjoyed The Body Finder and can’t wait to read the next book. Some areas could have been tightened up or taken further but overall, I loved the concept. An indulgent and engrossing read.