George Kirkham and Leonard Territo pair up to deliver an informative, fast-paced police procedural in Ivory Tower Cop, exploring a serial rape case based on actual events. The thriller digs into half a dozen savage crimes, the latest developments in forensic science, arcane Biblical studies, historical detail from The Third Reich, and Nazism’s reach into the present with a pace and range worthy of Dan Brown.
David Roth is an internationally recognized expert on the behavioral profiling of serial rapists, a professor at the University of Miami, and a widower who lost his wife and son to a drunk driver several years before the events of this story. He’s fast-tracked through the police academy to team up with Miami PD’s special victims unit, headed by an attractive young Cuban-American, Maria Sosa. Stir in romance among the story’s numerous other fine attributes.
Kirkham and Territo are skilled at maintaining pace even while folding in technical details steeped in minutiae: “Although the blond follicle lacked an intact root with a nucleus, a recent breakthrough in mitochondrial DNA testing made it possible for labs to extract DNA from non-nucleated cells on the hair shaft itself.” And, “Such things as the numbers of fibers per strand, their dye content, plus thickness and direction of twist.” And those red spots in the eyes of the deceased? “Petechial hemorrhaging.”
They also score points for wry humor, as when Roth and Sosa sit on prolonged stakeout: “Roth finally decided that whoever held the department’s bladder distention record could keep the title.” A keystone clue turns out to be the rapist’s choice of condom: the Buttmaster. (Less is more here, to maintain the integrity of the mystery).
Two other strengths to the writers’ prose include such turns of phrase: “As the day wore on, the radio would begin chattering like a magpie with coded pronouncements of human misery.” And their convincing narrative, in mercifully small doses, from the rapist’s point of view: “Soon, she would think of him every day for the rest of her life.”
They’re convincing enough in selling the novel’s main device: a professor-turned-detective in a shortened tour through the Academy, then turned loose on a high-profile case that’s got the city’s professional women terrified. But what really happens when a green gumshoe (regardless of his insightful contributions to investigative matters) needs to quickly deal with the rigmarole of setting up protective custody? “He put her on hold while he called the Orlando Police Department and arranged to have her placed in protective custody. After returning to the line, he kept her talking until OPD officers arrived…”
Could be my personal experience with bureaucracy has me jaded, but it would seem that even a cop with years on the force and police contacts throughout the state would need to navigate thick and twisted layers of red tape to establish this protocol. Meanwhile our Johnny-come-lately does it with the flick of his wrist while his caller’s on hold.
Another weakness, in my view, was Roth’s sudden disdain for his former colleagues soon after earning his badge. “We’re scholars, not practitioners!” one jealous faculty member tells Roth. “We have reputations to uphold!” Roth turns on him, and accuses them all of succumbing to irrelevance. “Until this semester, I’d never spoken to a rape victim. Not one, in 13 years at the university. Don’t you see how out of touch we are? This is criminology, not medieval history.” His sudden righteousness felt misplaced and pretentious.
Small hiccups aside, the book provides a solid glimpse into modern-day police work and serves as both an entertaining read and a sound resource for the crime writer looking to bone up on methodology.