Written by J A Kerley — In the most random places in an Alabama city, people are dying. A rosy-cheeked college student is knocked off her bike and shot with a crossbow. A disabled black boy, with Immune Defficiency Syndrome, is stabbed through the side with a hunting knife. A genial medical worker with the sunniest of dispositions is hacked to death with a tomahawk. And, a frail, elderly dementia sufferer is ravaged with a bolt from a spear-gun, in the sunlit grounds of her care home.
Carson Ryder is a detective with the city of Mobile’s police department, and he’s horrified to be told that ambiguous remarks about tackling serial killers, made to a class of police academy students, may have provoked this killing spree.
In between balancing his long-term relationship with medical examiner Claire Peletier with his jolt of passion for a nubile police cadet, Ryder must try to identify a pattern to the murders. Are they random? Are they the work of a deranged lunatic? Or are the deaths a macabre opening movement of a symphony which will end with his own death?
There are twists and turns to the plot which will delight anyone who likes complexity. Yes, we know who the bad guy is from the start, but what are his connections to the main players? For good or ill, Ryder realises that he has been singled out as a symbolic ultimate target for the killer. Despite his plain clothes, Ryder has come to represent the worst excesses of what Gregory Nieves deems ‘The Blue Tribe’.
This is not a book for the squeamish. Gregory Nieves is the nastiest and most deranged fictional sociopath I have come across in many years. He doesn’t quite replicate the hellish deeds of the killer in Derek Raymond’s masterpiece, I Was Dora Suarez, but then I suspect no-one ever will. Nieves’ sociopathy is the result of his upbringing and environment, but Kerley is no bleeding-heart liberal, and doesn’t waste words on eliciting our sympathy. Nieves does what he does, and over the corpses of the innocent college girl, the disabled boy and the old woman in the grips of dementia, there can be prayers of neither redemption nor forgiveness.
On one level The Killing Game is over-the-speed-limit escapist stuff peopled with familiar characters – the dependable side-kick, the savvy city politicians who control police departments, the bottom feeding police officers who resent flair and intuition, and the improbable number of attractive single women who float in and out of fictional crime investigations in American cities. On another level, however, this is a raw and brutal account of the mindset of a killer with a personality damaged beyond repair. He is skilful, highly intelligent, but so lacking in human empathy that he has had to learn appropriate facial expressions from studying TV advertisements. Readers who are familiar with the Carson Ryder stories will be forgiven a guilty shiver of pleasure to hear that there is a brief appearance from Ryder’s psychotic brother Jeremy, so much a feature in the earlier books.
The Killing Game is not a book for those who like delicacy, ambiguity and pastel shades, and I should introduce one small note of caution – there is a fairly seismic lurch in the plot just before the end. You’ll have to decide for yourself if it works or not, but I suggest that Kerley has produced another must-read book which will delight existing admirers and convert many new ones.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars