Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Release Spotlight: In For the Kill

In For the Kill by John Lutz

Who knew serial murders could be boring? At almost five hundred pages, the latest thriller by John Lutz (most mainstream-famous for the book the movie Single White Female was based on) bogs in places—but thankfully not at the most important times.

Making his second appearance in Lutz’s collection, ex-cop Frank Quinn faces the Butcher, so cleverly named because he drowns pretty females in New York City, then chops them into pieces, scrubs the pieces with every cleanser in the apartment, and stacks them in the bathtub. The first five victims appear to be guilty only of having last names whose first letters spell out Q-U-I-N-N, but it’s never explained why the Butcher is egging on Quinn specifically.

For his remaining victims, the Butcher sends cryptic hints to the police, but they’re so obtuse, the reader is left wondering why he does it. The only one that works well is about roses, which leads the cops on a hunt for rose varieties named after women, female characters in Shakespeare, and women named Gertrude, because of a Gertrude Stein quote about roses. They’re wrong—the next victim’s last name turns out to be “Thorn”—but the note and the cops’ missteps are both poetic and logical: “‘We should have thought of it,’ Fedderman said. ‘It’s right there in the note between the lines, just like thorns are between the roses. If you’re thinking roses, you’re a fool if you’re not also thinking thorns.’”

The reader is present at every killing, which becomes a bit much after a while. Lutz is skillfully not gratuitous in his description, so that’s not the tiring part. Rather, each episode is identical, with just a slightly different victim inserted in place. Yes, that is the hallmark of “serial killing,” but it’s not the hallmark of a great read.

Other than those stumbles, this is a good page-turner. The characters are interesting, with distinct voices. The serial killer has a startlingly unique back story that is woven with his present-day actions. Those who should do indeed get their due, as is to be expected, but not every thread is tied neatly into bows at the end. And that’s what a thriller is: not a book about violence, but a book about humanity, how we as individuals slip and slide to and from our darkest tendencies. A certain level of sleepiness in the mystery can be tolerated if the actual story is wide awake.

Review by Kristin Thiel, Indigo Editing, LLC

ISBN: 978-0-7860-1843-7
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Pub. Date: November 2007
Paperback, $6.99

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