Alter Ego (A Jonathan Stride Novel)
James Patterson, Michael Connelly, and Jeffery Deaver are all household names to mystery/suspense fans, Brian Freeman not so much. But he should be. Read one of Freeman’s Jonathan Stride novels, and you’ll wonder why he isn’t at the top of the bestseller lists with every new release.
At first it looks like a car accident: Man Hits Deer—Deer Wins. Then anomalies begin to mount up. Why does the victim have no identification? Why is he driving barefoot while wet boots covered with pine needles are found in the car? Why was he walking during a Minnesota blizzard? Where was he walking from? Why does he have a recently fired gun?
One thing is clear: Whatever the victim was doing, he was up to no good.
Detective Maggie Bei of the Duluth, Minnesota, police department doesn’t take long to decide to call out the big gun of local law enforcement: Lieutenant Jonathan Stride. In Maggie’s words: “Why should he sleep in when we’re awake?”
Maggie reports to Jonathan that a search of the John Doe’s rented cabin in Duluth reveals absolutely no trace evidence or fingerprints. “We didn’t find so much as a strand of hair in the room. He bleached everything. He even cleaned the drain traps in the sink and shower. This guy was a pro.”
What is a pro, a probable paid assassin, doing in Duluth, Minnesota, and why did he have an entertainment tabloid with an article circled about a movie being filmed in the city? The movie is based on a previous case of Jonathan’s, his search for the serial killer, Art Liepold.
Is the assassin in Duluth because Jonathan is a target? Or is the missing film student, Haley Adams, linked to the assassin as either his accomplice or his victim? Jonathan fears that the recently fired Glock the police found at the car accident very possibly may have been fired at Haley Adams.
The presence of the film crew of Caged Girl heightens the stress levels for Jonathan and the whole police department. The actor playing Jonathan, Dean Casperson is a legend, a real A-List performer. “He’d been one of the biggest box-office draws in the world for almost forty years. . . . He’d been married to his high-school sweetheart for decades . . . They were careful to never let their public masks slip.”
Although Dean Casperson is well-liked both on-screen and off-screen, Jonathan witnesses the actor intimidating Chris Leipold, the director/producer/writer of the film. “It was like watching a tiger and realizing that he could eat you whenever he wanted.”
Jonathan and Maggie search Haley Adams’s apartment, but find nothing except a mannequin in a negligee and a blonde wig, and a closet full of clothes in different styles and sizes. There is something odd about Haley.
The oddness increases as Jonathan and Maggie learn that Haley apparently changes her appearance every day, so none of the film crew can accurately describe her. Then the two discover that Haley is not a film student from the local college; in fact, Haley Adams doesn’t exist.
Serena, Jonathan’s wife and another cop, questions Aimee Bowe, Dean Casperson’s costar, who plays the last victim, Lori Fulkerson, who survived the serial killer. Aimee tells Serena that she believes the police won’t find Haley alive. “Sometimes I sense things . . . I guess some people would call it psychic,”
Serena doesn’t believe in psychics, but she is taken aback by Aimee who tells her that the film crew plays by “West Coast Rules.” They trust no one, and no one should them. “And I’d rather not speculate about why she was here.”
Aimee does insinuate that Haley was spying on someone, and Jonathan and the police soon learn who the target is. Haley had been spying on Dean Casperson, but they don’t know why.
Serena attends a Dean Casperson party and takes Cat, a teenager she and Jonathan have adopted. Serena hopes to learn something more about Dean and the members of the film crew. The evening ends early when Casperson’s stunt man, Jack Jensen, makes a pass at Cat.
Jonathan learns from Chris Leipold that another intern had quit after accusing Jack Jensen of rape. Chris refuses to disclose the name, but Jonathan is beginning to hear rumors that Dean Casperson is himself a rapist. Furthermore, there have been dead bodies found over the years at locations where Casperson had been filming.
Haley’s body is found, and Maggie learns that the real Haley Adams is dead, murdered in Florida five years before using the same gun found on the John Doe assassin from the car accident.
Maggie goes to Florida to track down Haley’s real identity, while Cat is learning more about what a sexual predator Dean Casperson really is. There is no way to arrest him, because the women he assaulted are either dead or paid off. As a victim of sexual abuse while living on the street before the Strides adopt her, Cat is furious that Casperson is getting away with rape and possibly murder. She devises a way to trap the screen actor and unmask him in front of the whole world.
Brian Freeman gives his fan a taut, exciting story that will keep one reading long past bedtime. The character of Jonathan is that of a strong man who knows he has made mistakes in the past and accepts the regrets that accompany those mistakes.
Freeman evokes Minnesota in January so realistically that a reader may require a sweater in June. The only downside to Freeman’s Jonathan Stride novels is that there are not enough of them. He needs to pick up his writing pace to meet the demands of a growing fan base.