"The Key" by Ilsa J. Bick
"The Key" by Ilsa J. Bick begins with the investigation of a baby's death in Washington DC. The body is found by a jogger in a shallow grave in a park. What starts out as a standard police procedural turns into something that more resembles a paranormal CSI episode, reminiscent of Anita Blake but without the vampires. Jason Saunders is a detective called to the scene. Arcane clues–a strange tattoo on the baby's chest and an amulet under his tongue–send Jason on a probing journey that takes him to the darker corners of Kabbalah mysticism.
In addition to the inquiry, there's a subtle secondary plot. "The Key" deals with emotions both immediate and vicarious–second hand observation of the grief survivors of the WWII holocaust must feel, and the close anguish of losing a friend to suicide. It's a potent scrutiny of what irreconciled mourning can bring a person to, or make someone capable of. The mourning theme resonates throughout the story, making for a satisfying conclusion.
The sensory detail in "The Key" is riveting, even if oftentimes macabre. Likewise, the pacing is excellent. There's a fairly high gore quotient, but it's never gratuitous and never unwarranted. Bick knows her forensics, or at the very least, she can do a damn fine impression of sounding like she does. Her prose is crisp, with smatterings of biting humor that make you grin in a rictus of morbid amusement. I found it quite suggestive of Laurell K. Hamilton, but without the overlay of erotica. An enjoyable and absorbing read.