Written by Saul Black — With the strapline ‘Stalk. Kidnap. Kill. Repeat.’ you can probably guess that Saul Black’s debut crime novel is a serial killer thriller. In The Killing Lessons, three stories are interwoven, linked by a pair of sadistic serial muderers known for leaving cryptic items inside the bodies of their mutilated victims.
The first story opens with the two killers arriving at a house in rural Colorado shortly before Christmas, and the author’s talent for the psychological and macabre is soon on display. They mutilate single mother Rowena Cooper and her son, but her 10-year-old daughter Nell manages to run away, finding herself broken and freezing on the doorstep of their sole neighbour, an old writer crippled by sciatica. The second plot follows Claudia, a visa overstayer from Bournemouth, who is snatched by the two killers as she walks down a street in suburban Santa Cruz, before being taken to their lair.
The third story is the tale of a San Francisco homicide detective searching for anything that twill help her track down those responsible for brutally murdering at least eight woman all over the Western United States. It’s a case that tears the murder division apart. Valerie Hart worked a case like it before – one she couldn’t let go of. She had a miscarriage, lost two relationships and was driven to drink. Will she have a similar meltdown this time?
Nick Blasko, who may have been the father of her miscarried child, and Carla York, who hates Valerie for reasons she refuses to explain, both worked on that previous investigation with her. They are also on the task force to find the two killers.
These culprits leave no obvious clues and the detectives aren’t even certain there’s more than one of them. The only location they’ve returned to is San Francisco, with the rest of their crimes occurring everywhere from Missouri to Utah. But the author reveals more to us readers – we can see inside the minds of the killers, see into their dark past to the meaning of the cryptic clues they leave inside the bodies of their victims.
This view inside the minds of killers is difficult for authors to pull off, though many have tried. Some attempt to create sympathetic antagonists, while some reveal only darkness. Saul Black is a pseudonym of horror author Glen Duncan, and he uses his experience to lend some authenticity to that darkness. The result is a terrifying insight into the warped mind of one of them, and just what it is that makes him that way. However, his accomplice, who was drawn into the murders by the charismatic alpha killer, is given much less backstory. In addition to the mind of a killer theme, at its heart The Killing Lessons is about one cop chasing one killer, with action that builds as she comes closer and closer to her target.
What is in essence a simple police procedural is complicated by some unnecessary plot additions – the writer with sciatica, the final victim, and even her partner – are given more backstory than required to keep the plot moving. Little points such as the café the police visit and the movies that are showing in a mall cinema are details that are sure to date this novel more quickly than it deserves.
The Killing Lessons is out now for Kindle and comes out as a hardback on 21 May. Click here for more serial killer crime fiction.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars