Owen Laukkanen’s THE WATCHER IN THE WALL Reviewed

The Watcher In The Wall

Owen Laukkanen
G.P. Putnam
March 15, 2016

THE WATCHER IN THE WALL, Book Five in the Stevens and Windermere series by Owen Laukkanen, is a novel with a very dark subject matter. Known for his powerful and suspenseful stories Laukkanen continues this pattern with his latest book. He has dealt with Internet targeted killings that prey on young veteran’s emotions, human trafficking of teenage girls, and now this, a predator that encourages teenagers to commit suicide on a web-cam.

Early in the book readers understand that a stalker of sorts attempts to find teenagers who are depressed and want to end their life. In fact, the book cover and title play into this scenario. Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere, partners in a joint BCA-FBI violent crimes task force stumble on this person. Stevens’ daughter is devastated when a classmate commits suicide. She asks them to investigate this voice of death and doom. What they find is an online suicide club of unhappy teenagers, presided over by an anonymous presence that seems to be encouraging them. Stevens and Windermere are driven to find this person and prevent him from convincing others to act on their feelings.

What makes the story more relatable are the backstories on Windermere and the Internet killer. After being brutally abused by his alcoholic stepfather as a young man he decides to turn the tables on his stepsister, giving her constant emotional abuse. She decides to take her life, and as she hangs herself she notices him watching her. Unfortunately he gets a high from this and decides to set up a website where he can encourage others to die at their own hands as he watches.

Windermere also has dealt with suicide from bullying. As a teenager, she watched as someone she knew was taunted and bullied until they took their life. She did nothing to intervene and this has haunted her. This is probably one of the most potent parts of the book: the description of how so many students laugh along with the bullies, not because they want to be mean to the victim, but to fit in themselves, or out of a desire to not become a target of the bully themselves.

The book is also very informative in that it describes the debate between calling coercion a crime versus freedom of speech. A quote from the story explains, “State law says it’s a felony to coerce or counsel someone into committing suicide,” but there is no federal law because of “his right to free speech to do what he’s doing.” Readers might be shocked to learn that predators like this fictional character may not even be breaking the law.

THE WATCHER IN THE WALL an informative mystery. This chilling story is gut wrenching. A word of warning make sure you have the time to read it because you will not want to put it down.

Elise Cooper