“It’s always personal…Even when it’s not.”
After finally receiving permission to consult on active cases, Cassie Hobbes and the rest of the Naturals are called in to assist with an unusual string of murders in Sloane’s hometown of Las Vegas. This new serial killer is unpredictable; everything from the type of victim, to the location, to the murder weapon varies with each new kill. The only thing that is a consistent is a string of numbers inscribed by various means on the bodies of the victims. As rest of the team watches suspect interviews and struggles to profile the illusive killer, Sloane tries to crack the code, hoping that it will help them figure out when and where the killer will strike again. It might be their hardest case yet, but the Naturals team is also distracted by personal problems stemming from their unusual childhoods. Michael has recently come to a troubling new agreement with his abusive father, Sloane is preoccupied by trying to keep a secret from her Las Vegas past, and for the first time since her disappearance, there has been a break in Cassie’s mother’s case.
Following up on The Naturals (2013), and Killer Instinct (2014), All In retains many of the elements that made the first two books strong. The members of the Naturals program have become one another’s chosen family, but their unique skills ensure an unusual dynamic and spirited banter between them. Jennifer Lynn Barnes also continues to incorporate the creepy “You” sections that take readers into the head of the killer in the same way that Dean and Cassie try to get in their heads when they are profiling. Setting the story in Sloane’s hometown finally reveals more about a character that hovered on the periphery of previous installments, and we also get a couple of key glimpses at Lia’s old life, as well.
A common tactic in mystery and thriller novels is to make it personal by putting the protagonist in the way of danger, or having the case link to their tragic past. Cassie has already been held hostage by killers twice when their cases got personal, so this is a dynamic that Barnes has used extensively in the series. All In more than doubles down on this technique, linking to the past of some characters, while actively targeting other members of the Naturals team. Even Judd, who is supposed to be responsible for remaining objective and prioritizing the well-being of his charges, find ghosts from his past turning up in unexpected places in this case. Barnes no longer has to find excuses to pull the Naturals off cold cases and into the action, but she is still relying on other favoured plot devices, such as personal vendettas, and new murders mimicking cold cases.
As Barnes moves from episodic murder cases to revealing some large elements of her overarching plot for the series, All In undergoes a rather sudden tone shift, from a CSI or Criminal Minds-like vibe to a more Da Vinci Code-type feel. These revelations have broad implications that would tend to ensure that the next volume in the series will have to continue in this direction. It is still possible to make it all work, but the tone has changed dramatically. Currently, no title or publication date has been announced for the next installment.
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