– by R.A. LaShea
*This commentary applies to all 3 installments of “21 Weeks”
(Weeks 1-7, 8-14 & 15-21)*
How do you catch a perfect killer?
R.A. LaShea‘s tour de force of a serial crime saga, “21 Weeks” that spanned out in 3 7-week installments, is prolly the best constructed and executed crime procedural series I’ve ever read in any fic yet! Thanks to an enthusiastic recommendation from one of my GR mates (Cheers, Farah!), I grabbed a copy and never looked back! My goodness! It was like watching the entire case on-screen! So meticulous. So methodical. So absorbing and addictive. In fact, LaShea’s design of the entire case is so ready to be adapted from book-to-screen. imho! “21 Weeks” is truly one of the most original serial crimes created, what with the types of killings constructed and the methodology of solving it.
First off, I was immediately drawn to the aesthetic structure of LaShea’s presentation of her story – dividing it into weeks. Reminded me of the TV series, “24,” but instead of every episode representing one hour, this one was by week. And in each week, starting from “Week 1,” the story began with the day, the location and the time, reminiscent of the TV series, “Law & Order.” With this technique, I discovered that my brain was processing my reading of each Week as if it were a week instead of my usual reading time of x minutes to finish a chapter (Week). In essence, the constant display of the day and time on the pages tricked my brain into slowing down the reading time lapse to match LaShea’s. I can’t explain it any other way, so if you think I’m bonkers, maybe I am! Ignore this! Anyway, it literally brought Beck and Co.’s entire investigation of each homicide to life, for me, making my experience much more acute! In addition to this effective structure of presentation, one of the best bits was that I felt like LaShea gave me, the reader, the opportunity to work through and determine the killer’s modus operandi myself rather than spoon-feeding me, you know? Simply brilliant!
I really enjoyed LaShea’s attention to detail in describing the procedure of how the detectives investigated a homicide, from their arrival to the crime scene, getting preliminary info from the medical examiner on-site, to canvassing the scene, interviewing witnesses, all the way back to the station. I marvelled at the level of detail in the police procedure that LaShea was able to present in every single scene. I kept forgetting that I was reading rather than observing Beck and Co.’s investigation in real life! I wonder if LaShea shadowed any detectives or coppers in order to get a feel so that she could portray her story in this series with absolute authenticity…. Either way, bloody well done, Ms. LaShea!
I utterly enjoyed all the Beck and Baxton scenes, however few they were. Baxton, the M.E. (Medical Examiner) who was part of Beck’s team, was a breath of fresh air amidst all the gruesome, horrific, doom-and-gloom homicides that the team had to deal with every single week as the killer had promised. She reminded me so much of Maura Isles from “Rizzoli & Isles” – highly intelligent, awkward, nerdy, aloof – ah, just the kind of character I relish in! And her chemistry with Beck was instant right from the start. Now, mind, there is absolutely NO romance whatsoever in this series. And there shouldn’t be any, really, because it’d have been a distraction from the phenomenally written and executed serial case. However, there was still an air of sapphic feels whenever those two were in the scene together! The awkward but organic flow of their interactions reminded me a little bit of “Rizzles.” When there’s natural chemistry, nothing can possibly hide it, is there?
Weeks 1-7 were all about establishing Beck’s rapport with her colleagues at her newly assigned duty as a detective in the Homicide department. That was also when the still-at-large serial killer called the Twenty-year Killer showed up on the police’s radar again, specifically Bishop’s, since Bishop was the investigating officer when this elusive serial killer started killing 20 years ago. This time the killer had a manifesto – kill one person a week for the next 20 weeks. What a brilliant plot that LaShea came up with because with a specific mission detailed by the killer who’d eluded authorities and had been killing indiscriminately across state lines for the past 20 years, psychologically, the level of urgency of the situation automatically put everyone on-edge already, creating a cloud of tension, intensity and fear before Beck and Co. could even begin to determine where to start, let alone catch the killer or prevent the upcoming kills! Needless to say, I was already addicted and couldn’t wait to explore the killer’s methodology and how he’d fulfil his mission, what his m.o. was, and the nuts and bolts of Beck and Co.’s investigative process. I couldn’t stop marvelling at LaShea’s meticulous skills in providing every little detail about the entire process, which also, bless her, included the post-mortem findings.
Weeks 8-14 was even more thrilling for me. LaShea delved deeper into the psychology of the killer. A genius narcissistic psychopath, a cold-blooded killer who loved to play games, he was also poetic, grand-standing, theatrical, elaborate, with a disturbing elegance to his methods, which, I must say, I’d never encountered in other crime books before. It was cleverly imagined and the psychology behind it was devastatingly soul-crushing. As bodies slowly piled up as scheduled, Beck and Co. tried, to no avail, to determine exactly how the killer selected his victims and where his dumping ground would be. Beck had an instinctive skillset with an unconventional state of mind when it came to solving crimes, most prolly due to her backstory, which I won’t divulge here, only that it was another creative measure by LaShea, giving a female MC in a dark crime genre something that wasn’t a bog-standard backstory. I was gratified by that. It just shows, yet again, that there are many other creative ideas for a “female“‘s destructive, tragic, traumatic past, you know what I mean? So, thank you, Ms. LaShea!
In addition to exploring the psychopathy of the killer with zeal, LaShea was also brilliantly scrupulous with her fastidiousness in creating deeply affecting, emotionally resonant victimology for every single person whom the killer picked to murder. I was mentally shaken as I discovered the sad, tragic reasons for those victims to be targeted because I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that someone, a so-called human being, could actually descend into such a diabolical mindset to carry out such deeds. It was beyond injecting the usual violence into the kills, it was a total incineration of a person’s core existence – the soul. Another fascinating element of this case was the design of the localities. Let’s just say LaShea utilised the expression, “in plain sight,” to a whole new level! Read it and find out for yourself!
Chaos vs Order. In psychology, as we know, humans are creatures of habit. We simply can’t help resorting or reverting to the same patterns of behaviour, actions, reasoning over and over again after bouts of change or deviation – chaos. Sooner or later, there’s order. Hence, coppers and profilers use this phenomenon as a tool to study and determine the suspect’s or unsub (unknown subject)’s actions or mode of behaviour in order to catch them. Same thing with the serial killer in this case. As perfect and a genius of a killer he was, he also realised that he couldn’t escape the ultimate order to his created chaos. How he tried to manipulate and obfuscate his own habits of behaviour and actions were incredibly refreshing as Beck slowly put the pieces of the puzzle together ever so methodically. I loved every process that LaShea described about Beck’s train of thought and cerebration. They added much more insights into the increasingly cataclysmic cat-and-mouse game the killer was playing ever-so gleefully with Beck and Co.!
Also in this installment, I got to find out more about Beck’s life, her alternative family, who also became her rug-rat team comprised of a hacker, a genius auto repair-cum-physics and chemistry savant, and a big brother figure who grew up together with her under dire situations growing up in a rough neighbourhood. There were more Beck and Baxton interactions, too. In fact, there was an utterly adorable scene between these two when Beck was under the influence of GHB! That was fun! Poor Beck! And then there was a very funny scene in the strip club involving Beck and her family-mates, Zeke and Dougie. Their dialogue was cheeky and hilarious, those bastards! IKR? In the midst of all the darkness, desperation and grittiness of the case, LaShea ever-so subtly injected humour into the situation, effectively grounding it to reality because we know that in life, there’s laughter in times of grief and tragedy.
One of the two memorable crimes for me occurred in this installment. The victim in this crime, her back story, her circumstances in life and her plans that ended so tragically and untimely really struck a chord with me. LaShea’s description and depiction of the victim’s history drew a detailed image of her and her life that played back so clearly in my mind and I couldn’t help but feel incredibly reflective about the meaning of existentialism in life. What is the purpose that’s different from one to the next? Random chaos? Systemic purging? Or by design?
Anyway, this second installment ended with a real gut-punch for me with that crime. Unbelievably affecting, crushing but totally worthwhile!!!
Then, Weeks 15-21 came down like a ton of bricks! The final act. All bets were off, body count piling up. So much to lose. The intensity level cranked up to the ninth degree!! As Beck’s ingenuity in sniffing out the killer, his identity, info about his next kill got closer and more acute, her safety and the safety of her team, and especially those she loved and cared about reached fever pitch. Explosions, bodies dropping like flies, multiple shootings, people around her getting hurt, the entire series of scenarios and situations became almost untenable. The action sequences were visually described I could feel the desperation from both sides – the killer’s and Beck and Co.’s. And then….UFOs?!??!! Whaaa??!!? One word. GENIUS. Let’s just say, LaShea really knew how to stir your emotions and the sense of helplessness, churn your stomach, twist your heart and mind, I was white-knuckling at the edge of my seat with a despairing depth of a sinking sensation when my worst nightmare happened. It really did.
That one crime that overshadowed everything else for me. The most lasting, memorable moment. For me. I was inundated with a demoralised sense of anguish, injustice, the deep-seated sick feeling from my core about the state of human decay. I couldn’t help reflecting on its parallel with real life. Because of the perpetual gender inequality, misogyny, contempt for the female gender in this patriarchal society we live in, so pungent that for the firm belief of some that it is within their human right to treat women with such denigrating contempt, hate and disregard like they are less than humans, merely objects for them to do whatever they pleased to satisfy their rotting, heinous souls, if they even have any! The society, at large, is basically standing by, complicit. I really wonder. When will this torment end? Will it ever end? Or is it a cosmic joke to more than half of the world’s population? I really wonder.
Having said that, I was heartened that LaShea took what was literally a realistic occurrence (happening IRL too often than I care to mention!) and turned it on its head as a “F*ck you!” to the society, with an absolutely inspiring, most satisfying fight-for-survival to the otherwise same-old-same-old, disparaging end to a beautiful life. I felt at least a sense of consolation that whilst it didn’t work out, at least the courageous attempt made a difference to Beck and Co.’s hunt for the killer once and for all! It propelled Beck to switch tactic. To be able to catch a perfect killer is to be able to BECOME the killer, think, feel like him, but always cognisant about not crossing that line of no return. Hard task to perform but totally potent and effective. LaShea’s ingenious method of weaving this last hurrah from Beck and Co. was absolutely thrilling to read – going back to the particular time codes in specific scenes that LaShea intentionally left open earlier in the investigation to reveal what transpired after those scenes supposedly ended, tethering each scene with its own tailpiece to reveal what exactly Beck was planning. OMG, I was utterly enthralled by LaShea’s sheer audacity to use that method in presenting the plot’s final act! Superbly original! Needless to say, the ending was absolutely satisfying I felt like celebrating myself because it was truly like having achieved the biggest, most impossible goal to reach the ultimate success!
All in all, I can’t recommend this entire series HIGH enough! It is most definitely a MUST-READ for ALL fans of crime/mystery fiction, especially those who appreciate meticulously constructed and presented piece of crime procedural along with heartfelt, emotionally affecting characters that make you feel utterly invested from the start to the finish line. LaShea has now proven to me that she is a brilliantly creative and utterly original writer across genres. I’m now a loyal fan of her work and will never miss anything she churns out next!!
Read “21 Weeks” and I guarantee you will have one wild, thrilling, intense and ultimately satisfying ride of any crime genre!
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