“Caged,” by Ellison Cooper, is a fast paced thriller about FBI neuroscientist Sayer Altair, who winds up leading the hunt for an especially twisted serial killer. Said serial killer is kidnapping young women and locking them in cages, dosing them with psychoactive drugs, priming them with mythology about death and dying, and then starving them. It’s a long, slow, scary way to die. Altair and her team are eager to end the cycle of killings and prevent any more girls from being tortured and killed.
I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway, but my opinion is my own.
Content Note: forced outing of someone intersex/trans
There’s really cliched words used to describe thrillers: roller coaster, page turner, gripping, full of twists, etc. “Caged” is all of those and more. “Caged” is a very fast read with a few great red herrings that come across not as cheap or cheating but as organic parts of the story. When I was fooled, so were the rest of the characters, in a very believable way. Cooper does a great job using our expectations against us.
Cooper’s characters are interesting as well: flawed, hurting Altair and her incredible grandmother; her partner Vik; FBI Assistant Director, and her boss, Janice Holt; blue haired evidence tech Ezra; Medical Examiner Joan Warren; huge egotistical jerk and profiler Andy Wagner. They don’t feel like stock characters, or pale imitations of real people crabbed from tv shows. They all have stories and pasts of their own, even if we don’t see them.
The book passes the Bechdel-Wallace test on page seven and continues with solid, realistic, fully fleshed female characters throughout the book.
I could easily see this book as a good and exciting movie, either on the big screen or as part of a televised mini-series that follows the rest of the book series that we’re almost guaranteed to get as sequels to “Caged.”
I did have a few quibbles with the book, most of which are spoilers.
One big non-spoiler is that although it’s enticing to think that serial killers are super smart geniuses who outwit the police through sheer braininess and not luck and inattention on the part of cops, the statistical fact is that most serial killers are low average to average intelligence. They start with small crimes, build up from there, and largely target marginalized people like Women of Color who are homeless and/or sex workers. They often brag about their violent actions but are overwhelmingly ignored. When Wagner busts out his analysis of who the serial killer is, he spouts the most cliched and average description possible. White male.25-35 years old. The statistically improbably high IQ (which keeps getting bumped up higher and higher). Etc. Serial killers fly under the radar not because they’re Hannibal Lectors, suave and genius manipulators. They fly under the radar, are successful, because they seem average.
Another is that the author is a Maya nerd. She’s studied the Maya and Maya culture. But when Agent Altair goes to chat with a Maya expert she gets an infodump one can easily find online. I expected more from a conversation with an expert, especially when the AUTHOR is an expert in the field.
There were a few other things that bugged me but I’m not going to go into them because they walk all over spoiler territory, kicking sand over the line between “spoiler” and “not spoiler” and sprinting well into spoiler distance. Most people who aren’t huge nerds won’t recognize them, though. Just like, ah, most people who aren’t huge nerds probably won’t have noticed my two issues above.
All in all, however, I greatly enjoyed “Caged” and would happily set aside a day or two to read whatever novel is the follow up to this one