Rookie cop Carrie Santero and her boss, Chief Bill Waylan, are stumped by a serial killer wreaking havoc in their rural Pennsylvania town. Each murder is different, they realize, committed in the style of a famous killer of the past—Ed Gein, the “Plainfield Ghoul”; Ronald Dominique, the “Bayou Serial Killer”; Robert Ben Rhoades, the “Truck Stop Killer”—and leaving a different kind of evidence behind. Despite Carrie’s lifelong fascination with murders, their deepening investigation of this “omnikiller” seems to yield more questions than answers.

They need help, which leads them to tap former detective Jacob Rein, a lost, dark soul whose own police work brought him face-to-face with some of the most inhuman killers imaginable. Only his insights can help Santero catch the killer in The Thief of All Light, the inaugural book in Bernard Schaffer’s Santero and Rein thriller series.

In many ways, Rein has a lot in common with Schaffer, who, though he’s still very much a working detective, has also seen human darkness up close. “I’ve been on the other side of the interview table, opening myself up to ideas and concepts that revolted me, only because that is what it took to get a confession from a person whose cruelty and inhumanity would shock you,” Schaffer says. “I also know it’s worth it if it keeps a little kid, or a traumatized victim, from having to endure testifying.”

Those kinds of experiences make The Thief of All Light a thriller unlike any other—a fast-paced, terrifyingly authentic read that delves into the true nature of evil and the toll it takes on those who fight it. A child forensic interviewer, narcotics expert, and undercover cop who’s proficient in the use of wiretaps, Schaffer is the real deal. But he’s been a writer longer than he’s been in law enforcement.

Thriller fans are in for a trip with a writer who knows his craft as well as he knows his subject matter. “I published prior to entering the police academy, and in many ways, my writing has simply absorbed my experiences as a cop,” Schaffer says. “There are many, many cops whose experience dwarfs mine and many authors whose credentials dwarf mine, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of any who are as committed to both.” Schaffer has also worked with Harlan Ellison, Alan Dean Foster, J.A. Konrath, and Bill Thompson and is an active member of International Thriller Writers.

Before joining the Kensington list to make his traditional publishing debut with The Thief of All Light, which will be released in hardcover on July 31, Schaffer independently published several works of fiction and nonfiction (he also had a career as a child actor), but he felt he was ready for a change.

“The truth is, quality is often less valuable than quantity in the indie world,” Schaffer says. “There is a mad dash to produce content, to fill up the digital bookshelf as fast as humanly possible, which I have seen over and over again. At this point in my career, I want to focus on the purest, most high-octane literature I can create, and I want to do it surrounded by a team of like-minded professionals.”

But he’ll keep what he learned from indie publishing with him—along with his experiences as a cop—as he enters this new phase of his career. “In indie publishing, you earn your readers one at a time, and they mean more to you than any amount of money you make from your books,” Schaffer says. “I will carry that hardworking, can-do, victory-or-death mentality with me always.”

Thrillers don’t get any more real than this. Readers interested in getting inside psychopaths’ heads, and fans of shows such as Mindhunter and podcasts such as In the Dark and True Crime Garage are in for a mind-bending ride that’s likely to change the way they imagine killers—and the officers who hunt them.