Sunday, March 2, 2014

Killing the BeastsKilling the Beasts by Chris Simms
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I find it quite boring to read a book that ends up being close to what I expected it to be (that’s why I generally don’t like book series) so when an author manages to surprise me, I tend to value it a lot. Chris Simms totally astounded me with his novel “Killing the Beasts”. My rating is very high mainly because of the surprise factor, actually, because of three surprise factors.

First of all, the structure of the book is delightfully unusual. There are two threads: one is quite a standard police procedural (DI Jon Spicer searches for a serial killer who has a weird and distinctive modus operandi in murders of women). The other thread does not have much of a crime component; it is about tribulations of Jon’s friend, Tom, who is in the building wrap business and struggles to cope with much increased demand for his services before the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, UK. In fact, the “non-criminal” thread tends to dominate a large portion of the novel. Of course, an experienced reader knows that the threads will somehow merge at the end. And they do, but in an utterly unexpected (at least to me) way.

The novel undergoes quite a drastic metamorphosis toward its end. It is no longer what it seemed to be in the earlier parts. And I found the sudden switch of premise even more delightful. Sort of like an operatic aria capping a mundane techno music performance.

The third surprise cannot be divulged without spoiling the “mystery”. I can only say that it involves quite a common every day item, and that it, in a sense, illustrates the foreshadowing aspect of the “Chekhov’s gun principle”. The item appears quite early in the novel, then its appearances proliferate in a mystifying way, and finally it plays an absolutely essential role in the denouement.

If not for the various surprises, “Killing the Beasts” would be a mediocre novel. I had quite a hard time focusing on the boring non-criminal thread involving Tom and his wife. The various surprises made the early pain worth bearing.

Four stars.

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