Written by David Levien — Frank Behr is a busted flush. He’s an ex-cop, ex-family man, and about to be an ex-private investigator. His case load is non existent, and he is existing on his already meagre savings. As the winter days shorten in Indianapolis, and Behr’s pessimism deepens, his attention is drawn to a billboard, requesting information about a missing woman.
Kendra Gibbons has vanished without trace. Months of half-hearted police work – well, she was only a hooker, after all – have produced precisely nothing. Kendra’s mother, though, is made of sterner stuff. Despite her daughter’s risk-laden profession, Kerry Gibbons wants the truth. Through crowd funding and sheer determination, she has raised a tidy sum as a reward for anyone who can shed light on what happened after Kendra was last seen getting into the car of an anonymous punter. Behr expects – and gets – no straight answers from the street women who knew Kendra, and it isn’t until he is forced to use strong arm tactics with her former pimp that he finds out anything remotely useful.
Behr takes the case, not so much because he shares Mrs Gibbons’ sense of injustice, but because he is damn-near broke. He pulls in a few very reluctant favours from former cop colleagues, and he soon discovers that Kendra Gibbons may just be one of a long line of Indianapolis women who have fallen victim to the same killer over the last two decades. With the help of a criminal psychologist – who also happens to be a very attractive divorced woman – Behr begins to construct a personality profile of the person he is hunting. Everything is brought to a standstill, however, when the killer strikes again. The body parts of the latest victim have been found, reconstructed in a grotesque parody of Edvard Munch’s celebrated painting The Scream.
Fictional serial killers come two a penny these days, but The Signature Killer is one of the worst you will encounter in terms of his depravity. It might be pushing it to say that he makes Hannibal Lecter look like a personal relationship counsellor, but it’s not too far wide of the mark. Be warned, then, that we are entering a world of sexual perversion, extreme cruelty, and body parts. A refrigerator full of them, in fact.
The narrative structure of Signature Kill is a familiar one. There are intermittent chapters where we look out on the world through the eyes of the killer. There is also a sense of déjà vu about Behr’s personal life. He has a long-suffering girlfriend, and a small son, and we know that he is always going to put the case first, and them second. We also know that he will live to regret that decision, as many others have done before in similar novels. After all, if Behr simply packed up the investigation and went home to read bedtime stories to his son, we wouldn’t have a novel, would we?
This is certainly a fast-paced and gripping read. It takes no prisoners in terms of nerve-jangling action, and although we might not easily distinguish Frank Behr from a dozen other creations by different authors, it doesn’t lessen the impact of the story. The first Frank Behr novel was City of the Sun (2008) and Signature Kill is the PI’s fourth outing.
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CFL Rating: 4 Stars