Crime author Charlie Donlea has had recurring characters before but The Suicide House is the first book in which he has brought back main characters from a previous book. That book Some Choose Darkness (also called The Woman in Darkness) introduced readers to criminal profiler Lane Phillips and neuro-atypical forensic reconstructionist, cold case savant, Rory Moore. The pair, along with some other previous Donlea characters are back in The Suicide House although it takes a while before they swing into action.
The story starts, as many thrillers do, with a cold open narrated by a psychopath. He recalls how he plotted to and succeeded in killing his brother while making the death look like an accident. The main plot revolves around series of gruesome deaths at an exclusive preparatory school. In the year since those deaths, not only the perpetrator but two of the survivors have committed suicide in similar ways. Mack Carter, has been hired to do a true crime podcast about the case. In doing so he squeezes out small time journalist Ryder Hillier who has also been investigating. Mack seeks the help of Lane Phillips. Lane wants Rory to help but fresh off another case, Rory just need some downtime which she spends repairing old porcelain dolls. Only the draw of the case eventually brings Rory in aswell.
There is plenty going on in The Suicide House, so much so that Lane and Rory often take a back seat to a number of other points of view. But this method allows Donlea to keep readers guessing with a number of suspects in the frame. The list of potential killers only starts to shorten as flashback sections slowly reveal what happened in the lead up to the night of the original killings.
But in the end this is a “Moore and Phillips” book. The solution comes from a combination of Rory’s ability to get into the mind of the victims and Lane’s experience and a database that allows him to identify the activities of serial killers. Despite this and connections to other Donlea titles, The Suicide House could easily be read as a stand alone. Donlea helpfully provides a guide at the end of the book to where various characters appear in earlier books for completists.
The Suicide House is another solid crime novel from Donlea. It feels a little more standard than some of his previous books but is still a great example of the genre anchored by a pair of engaging investigators. And has an ending which clearly flags further adventures for the pair.