Wednesday, December 30, 2015

All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The third installment of the Naturals series, All In, sees the teen profilers brought together to solve a series of murders which seem to suggest several perpetrators.

Cassie who has told her family that she's been with a special government-sponsored gifted program, is home celebrating the holidays. This interlude with her nonna and her Uncle Rio is interrupted when her father arrives to tell her that the body of her missing mother is believed to have been found. Cassie's mother has been missing since she was twelve years old. Her father tells her that they are trying to do a positive ID based on dental records. Cassie tells her father that she wants to see the place where her mother's body was found.

Cassie is picked up by Judd Hawkins, the burly security guard who protects the five teens who make up the Naturals. Cassie reiterates her desire to see pictures of the crime scene where her mother was found. Judd understands her request because he lost his daughter, Scarlett to the serial killer known as Nightshade. Judd agrees to request the files from the agents they are working with, but tells her she won't be viewing them alone.

Boarding a private jet, Cassie meets up with Agents Tanner Briggs and Veronica (Ronnie) Sterling who recruited her after her mother's death, along with Dean Redding, Lia Zhang, and Sloane Tavish. Michael Townsend, the only missing member of the team, is at home visiting his abusive father. Twenty minutes into the flight, Briggs and Sterling tell the Naturals that they are to help out with a serial killer case. There have been three murders in three days at three different casinos; Alexandra Ruiz found floating facedown in the rooftop pool at the Apex Casino, Sylvester Wilde a "modern-day Houdini, illusionist, hypnotist and jack-of-all trades" found burned to death at the Wonderland Casino, and Eugene Lockhart a seventy-eight year old regular of the Desert Rose Casino who was shot in the chest with an arrow. Each of the victims have been marked with a set of numbers; Alexandra with 3213, Sylvester with 4558 and Eugene with 9144.

They fly to Las Vegas where the FBI has been given a complimentary suite at the Desert Rose. However, Michael who has joined the group, arranges for them to stay in the Renoir Suite at the most luxurious hotel in the city, the Majesty. For Sloane, staying at the Majesty is upsetting because her father, Grayson Shaw owns the hotel which is managed by her half-brother, Aaron. As the group settles in, Agent Sterling gives Cassie the file on her mother but tells her not to look at them alone.

The FBI has identified five persons of interest in the murders, all except one are participants in a poker tournament at various Las Vegas casinos: Thomas Wesley who has created three internet start-up companies and has been playing professional poker for a decade, Tory Howard who is a stage magician, Camille Holt an actress in her second major poker tournament, Dr. Daniel de la Cruz who is a professor of applied mathematics and Beau Donovan, a twenty-one year old dishwasher who won the qualifying tournament two weeks earlier.

Reconsidering the numbers engraved on each of the victims wrists, Sloane determines that the UNSUB is marking his victims with numbers from the Fibonacci sequence, "a series of numbers, derived from a deceptively simple formula where each subsequent integer is calculated by adding together the two previous numbers in the series." She explains that the Fibonacci sequence is found throughout nature in various biological structures such as nautilus shells, flowers and the arrangement of pine cones.

Lia, Michael and Cassie decide to check out the casino in the hotel but when they arrive, they are told that the area they are in has just been closed for maintenance. The arrival of Agents Sterling and Briggs suggests something serious is happening. As they wait to hear from the FBI agents, Cassie looks at her mother's file with Dean. Her mother, missing for the past five years was buried  wrapped in a blue shawl with a necklace around her neck and a flower pressed into the bones of her left hand. Cassie puzzles over who would have buried her mother in this manner.

The Naturals learn that there has been yet another murder, this time at the Majesty. Camille Holt has been found dead, strangled after a vicious struggle Sloane correctly predicts the number on Camille's arm as 2333 explaining that UNSUB is using the Fibonacci pattern, mid-sequence. Briggs tells them that Aaron Shaw is a suspect and that they will be interviewing Tory Howard as well. The Naturals are able to listen in on Briggs and Sterling's questioning of Tory, who admits to going out to dinner with Camille whom she didn't know very well. When questioned about where she was after dinner Beau Donovan, comes forward to state that he spent the night with Tory. However, Lia who can detect lies, believes that Beau is lying. Beau reveals that Tory is his foster sister and tells them that Camille made him feel welcome once he joined the poker tournament. He informs them that Camille was worried about Thomas Wesley. Briggs and Sterling go to interview Wesley at the Desert Rose.Once they enter his suite however, the video feed goes dark so Lia, Michael, Cassie and Dean decide to head to the pool area where they pick up the feed and listen to Wesley tell the agents that he has an alibi for each of the nights of the murders and that Tory Howard's real talent is hypnosis. Unfortunately, Michael gets into an altercation with an unknown man in the pool area after his behaviour towards his small son triggers him to act out.

Meanwhile Sloane believes that they have only thirteen hours before the UNSUB strikes again - if he is killing every day. However, when the Naturals return from the indoor pool area, Sloane has determined that the locations of each murder to date are part of the Fibonacci spiral with the killer spiralling in from the Apex casino. All of the remaining potential murder sites will be situated at the Majesty casino which is in the center of the spiral with next murder to be in the Grand Ballroom. This leads to the FBI staking out the ballroom but nothing happens for three days.

Agent Sterling believes the killer is very organized and planned each of the attacks. Sloane insists that the killer MUST continue killing because the Fibonacci pattern is spiralling inward. She insists the ballroom must continue to be closed. To help her de-stress, Cassie and Lia take Sloane shopping, but instead she shoplifts and is caught by the head of the casino security, Victor McKinney. Aaron Shaw intercedes and reveals to Sloane that he knows she is his half sister. This conversation is interrupted by his father who throws everyone out of the security office except for Cassie and Sloane. Shaw tells them he knows about the Naturals due to contacts within the FBI. He warns Sloane to stay away from his new family and from his son Aaron.

Aaron Shaw sends the Naturals tickets to Tory Howard's magic show which the group attends along with Judd. At the show Tory hypnotizes a dozen volunteers including Michael. However, during the hypnosis, a girl who turns out to be Allison Lawrence, Aaron's girlfriend, begins yelling "Tertium" and says "I need nine." before collapsing. This leads to a fight between Beau who accuses Aaron of trying to entrap Tory.

Back at their hotel, Sloane tells Cassie that the killer will strike again in three days, on January 12th, when the poker tournament is slated to move to the Majesty. She states that she hacked into both the FBI and Interpol computers to search for murders committed on January 1 in the past fifteen years. Sloane discovers a series of nine murders, eleven years ago,  that began on August 1 and stretched into the following year on January 1 - the same Fibonacci sequence. Manipulating the numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, Sloane is able to create a pattern that not only matches their current killer's pattern but also that of the unsolved nine murders eleven years ago.

They now know that the killer murders "on dates derived from the Fibonacci sequence", nine victims at a time. This leads them to the realization that they are dealing with an expert, a serial killer who plans his attacks and then waits.  Cassie also believes that the arrow in the third victim which was inscribed with the word "Tertium" was a reference to this being the third set of murders. Based on Sloane's internet research, the Naturals now believe the casino killer is possibly on his third killing spree. As the Naturals learn more about the pattern of killings, they begin to uncover something more sinister than they cover ever have imagined.


All In continues to see the Naturals develop their special gifts to directly help in solving a serial crime. In this installment, the focus is on Sloane Tavish, who it turns out is the half sister of Aaron Shaw, son of Grayson Shaw who owns the Majesty casino where the next murder is to be committed. Sloane's existence is supposed to be a secret to Aaron but he knows about her. Sloane is terrorized by the presence of her father who is cold and harsh towards her, and she therefore is afraid of Aaron too. Aaron however is not his father and he attempts to prove this to Sloane by acts of kindness.Because of this tragic relationship with her father, Sloane is perhaps the most fragile member of the Naturals. She is portrayed as deeply broken and at times barely functional. But her savvy with numbers breaks the case wide open - revealing the Fibonacci pattern that forms the basis for the murders.

Barnes packs a lot of punch in this novel, presenting the Naturals with three murders that seemed to be linked by virtue of their location in casinos and yet seemingly very different. It takes someone whose mind is fluid with numbers to recognize the Fibonacci pattern inherent in the murders. In this respect, All In bears some similarity to an episode from Criminal Minds titled Masterpiece in that the Fibonacci sequence played a part in how the victims were selected. Mathematician Robert Brigham, who writes murder mysteries, authored a novel, Murder By The Numbers which also incorporates the Fibonacci sequence. But Barnes also highlights the talents of the other Naturals, in particular, series narrator, Cassie.

As with the preceding novels, Cassie's narration is interspersed with short narratives by the killer which are titled YOU.  The YOU narrative reveals the killer's motivation for murder and confirm the Natural's ability to profile and uncover motives. Cassie's narrative demonstrates how the Naturals work together as they attempt to solve the casino murders. Although there is friction within the group - between Michael and Lia, between Michael and Dean, for the most part the group is now able to function relatively smoothly. Once again Cassie shows herself to be observant and intelligent, quickly putting together the pieces of the puzzle. She's also compassionate towards her fellow Naturals, feeling sadness at the abuse Michael suffers from his father and trying to understand Sloane's instability. One of the fascinating strengths of Cassie's character is the amazing profiling that the reader is allowed to experience as she works her way through solving the murder and getting into the mind of the UNSUB.

Barnes also unexpectedly links together the murder of Judd's daughter and the disappearance of Cassie's mother. The plot twists are completely unexpected and the hanging ending leaves readers breathless to see how Barnes will wind up her story.

In this novel the love triangle does not play a significant part, seemingly resolved. While in the safe house, and after Michael has been targeted as the next victim, Cassie tells him that he helped her begin to feel again, that he was her first ever friend.It is her attempt to help Michael come to terms with the fact that their relationship is one of friendship and not romantic.

Overall, All In was an exciting novel, engaging to the very end.

The following is a summary of the ending of the novel and contains spoilers. Since Barnes is planning a fourth novel, this summary can serve as a refresher for that book when it is published in 2016.

Sloane reveals the crimes they are dealing with to be extremely complex and unique. Based on her research, The Naturals determine that the casino murders are the work of a mysterious cult that connects the murder of Judd's daughter, Scarlett Hawkins and the disappearance of Cassie's mother. Judd's daughter, Scarlett was murdered on May 8, which is a Fibonacci date, by a killer known as Nightshade because he left a white nightshade flower on his victims. Scarlett was the final victim in a spree of nine murders, all committed on Fibonacci dates. When Agents Sterling and Briggs were assigned to Nightshade, the killer went after the FBI, killing Scarlett who worked in the FBI labs. Further research by Sloane reveals that there have been at least one hundred and eighty-nine victims from eleven cases going back as far as the 1950's in both America and Europe. But since she doesn't have access to every crime database and some may never have been recorded, the Naturals begin to suspect that the number of victims must be larger and that they are dealing with more than one UNSUB. They also uncover a predictable pattern in how the victims are killed. The Naturals conclude that there are a group of victims, usually nine in number, killed on Fibonacci dates with a three year interval between the sets of murders. There are seven different methods of murder which repeat every twenty-one years.

Earlier in the novel, when the Naturals were playing Two Truths and a Lie, Lia's statements were: 1. "I killed a man when I was nine years old." 2." I'm currently considering shaving Michael's head while he sleeps." and 3. "I grew up in a cult." Cassie knows that Lia lived on the streets before she was brought into the program. Lia's statements stick with Cassie and she begins to suspect that her first and third statements might actually be true. As the group works to profile the UNSUB Lia is able provide insights into cult life that lead Cassie to believe that she is revealing a part of who she once was and who she continues to run from. Since the current murders are a half a year early, Lia believes, "Whoever our killer is, I'd be a lot of money that he's not a part of this group. If he were, the cult would be monitoring him. And if they were monitoring him and they found out that he'd shared even one of their secrets?...He wouldn't be our problem. He'd already be dead."

They believe that the UNSUB is attempting to demonstrate to the cult that he is better than they are and that his writing the numbers on the victims he's sending them a message. Proof that someone has in fact noticed comes when the Naturals attempt to leave Las Vegas and are prevented from doing so. They know that at least Nightshade has noticed because of a letter Judd receives from him. Cassie believes that Nightshade is in Vegas to kill the UNSUB. Cassie recalls meeting a man when she was first brought into the program who seemed to know Judd. She now believes that man was Nightshade.

Sloane also programs a search of other sources including newspapers and finds that the murder pattern stretches back into the late 1800's. Michael is determined to have been the next target as the numbers 7761 show up on his arm. They determine that Michael was marked after he accompanied Lia playing poker and she left to cash in her chips. Michael wants to attend the ballroom because he feels this gives them the upper hand: they know the location, the method and the intended victim. But Judd believes that Nightshade will also be there because Nightshade sent him a picture of a white nightshade, something he sent each of his victims before killing them. They wire Michael up, put him in a bullet proof vest and take him to the tournament with plenty of agents. As the Naturals wait and watch from their safe house, Cassie puts together the identity of the UNSUB and discovers the real intended victim - Aaron Shaw.

However, she is too late to protect Shaw who is murdered by Beau Donovan. Donovan is arrested but they need to determine what happened to the murder weapon. The Naturals contact Tory Howard, Beau's foster sister who recognizes Beau in their description of the UNSUB's profile. Tory reveals that Beau had been found in the desert when he was six years old, half dead. No one knew where he came from and he did not speak for almost two years after. During questioning by Agent Briggs, Beau reveals that he was part of a cult consisting of  "Seven Masters" known as the Pythia - a reference to the priestess at Apollo's oracle in Delphi. He reveals to Briggs and Sterling a gruesome carving on his chest, of his own making, showing a "seven small circles forming a heptagon around a cross." Before he can tell them more however, Beau suddenly dies from poisoning.

The revelation of the heptagon is shocking to Cassie because this symbol was carved on the wooden coffin her mother's body was buried in, in the woods. But Cassie's mother's death didn't fit the pattern: her death wasn't on a Fibonacci date, she was attacked with a knife instead of poisoned. Cassie also recognizes that the picture sent Judd is not that of white nightshade but is an origami flower like the one she saw on a little girl at the fountain outside the Majesty casino. She realizes that the man she saw with the little girl was in fact Nightshade. Cassie's description is used to create a drawing and they manage to locate Nightshade. However, he injects Briggs with a poison and in order to give them the antidote he wants to see Cassie. Nightshade tells them that the poison is a rare snake whose venom is slow acting.

Nightshade tells her that the ninth is the bridge between the generations in the cult, the leader. Cassie believes that her mother was taken by the cult and made to fight for her life. The woman Cassie had seen at the fountain with the little girl was her killer and Nightshade tells Judd and Cassie they will find her in room 2117 at the Dark Angel Casino. In Room 2117 they find the young woman dead and the little girl sitting on a chair. She tells Cassie her name is Nine but her mommy calls her Laurel. She tells Cassie that the dead woman is not her mother and shows her a picture in the locket around her neck. The woman in the locket is Cassie's mother. Cassie's mother is alive and in the cult.

Cassie mission now is to find her mother, find the Masters and to protect Laurel. "...the cult needed to think we hadn't put the pieces together. They needed to think that I believed I'd buried my mother. They needed to thinnk that we hadn't read much into the fact that the woman I'd mistaken for Laurel's mother was actually a nanny, a disposable Las Vegas native Nightshade had hired earlier that week."

Book Details:

All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Los Angeles: Hyperion       2015
376 pp.

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