Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Review of The Killing of Strangers by Jerry Holt (Lucky Press, 2006)

Another of my Ohio/Kentucky reads.

Sam Haggard left the police to take up a job as a security guard at the local university and in turn his wife left him. He’s now been sacked by the university for yelling at her new partner. As he picks up his stuff to leave the head of security offers him details on a baby-sitting job – keeping an eye on Crystal Jones, a local counter-culture celebrity, who’d been an agitator at Kent State University during the 1970 civil guard shootings. In the aftermath her partner, Delbert ‘Lucifer’ Jones, disappeared and now it seems he might be back, twenty five years later, stalking Crystal. Haggard is hired by Corrie, Crystal’s daughter, to keep an eye on her alcoholic mother, but her grandfather soon pays him off. Not long after Crystal dies in a mysterious fire, the Feds are taking an interest in Haggard, and the local cops are trying to bury the story. Everything seems to lead back to the Kent State killings and Haggard is determined to find out why to save himself and Corrie, the young woman he feels compelled to protect.

I found The Killing of Strangers a rather frustrating book in many respects. Some of it was well written, the contextual story of the Kent State shooting was interesting, and it certainly had a lot of action, but I found it quite patchy and uneven in quality and there were parts I just couldn’t buy into. For example, Haggard getting the sack for yelling ‘Get your fat arse out of that window’ at a professor who was illegally entering a university building at two o’clock in the morning and who had set off the fire alarm. I can’t see that standing up to any kind of legal scrutiny. The ending also stretched credulity to the limit, with coincidence after coincidence, and a very careless special operatives abductor. The older, downtrodden but worthy man falling for the girl half his age is also a well worn path at this stage. Some of the scenes were very well done, but others were pedestrian or redundant or below the standard set elsewhere in the book. The characterisation is generally good, and I thought the Mac character was excellent with his bitter wisecracks, but he was underused. My sense is a book, written in the third person, that focused on Mac and his wife would have great potential. All this, of course, is my opinion, and the book gets a raft of strong reviews on Amazon. It just didn’t click with me, even though I enjoyed parts of it.

5 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Thank you for bringing up credulity! A well-written mystery is also believable. The characters in a good mystery act and react in authentic ways. As soon as the reader begins to think, "Oh, that would *never* happen!" the mystery loses its appeal.

Uriah Robinson said...

Even a well written mystery fails if you start to doubt the reactions of characters and these are vital to the plot.

Dorte H said...

After having read a few lines of your review I thought, haven´t we heard all this before. Personally, I am also a bit tired of male protagonists in midlife crises who fall apart and get involved in all sorts of unlikely crimes and conspiracies.

pattinase (abbott) said...

A fine book this year, set in Michigan but it's near Ohio, is STARVATION LAKE by Brian Gruley. I bet it get nominated for some awards for best first novel.

Rob Kitchin said...

One of the people hosting my trip to Ohio is also reading the book so it'll be interesting to compare notes. Patti, thanks for the recommendation, I'll keep an eye out for Starvation Lake if I get a chance to browse through some bookstores. I should have probably stayed on for Boucheron but I have to get back to Maynooth for teaching on Monday (which means leaving Saturday for a Sunday arrival). Didn't occur to me when I was organising things. You also wouldn't believe how difficult it is to get between Columbus and Lexington - I'm having to do a one way car hire (the alternative was to fly via Chicago) and even then it took me a while to find a company that would let me do that.