Saturday, September 18, 2010

"The Crucifix Killer" by Chris Carter

Robert Hunter is a hotshot homicide detective with a knack for solving crimes. Teamed up with rookie partner Carlos Garcia, he finds his most horrifying case coming back to haunt him when a murder victim shows up bearing the mark of the Crucifix Killer. The only problem is that they caught the Crucifix Killer a couple of years ago - he was convicted and executed. The pair must figure out whether this is a copycat or they caught the wrong guy. They must also contend with pimp D-King, who is out for vengeance of his own when he believes his favourite girl Jenny might be one of the killer's latest victims.

It's amazing how many crime thrillers get released these days about detectives tracking down a killer they thought had already been caught, and trying to find out if they're dealing with a copycat or if they arrested the wrong person. "14", reviewed not long ago, had a similar premise. To "The Crucifix Killer"'s credit, it's quickly established that yes, this killer is the real deal, and the wrong man was executed. That doesn't stop it from being a cliched, badly written entry in the genre, however. Frequent crime readers will comfortably predict the identity of the killer and their motive. Carter attempts to divert attention with the subplot involving D-King and his search for Jenny's killer, and throws in a snuff movie subplot as well, but it does little to hide the fact that this is a weak, pedestrian effort. Characterisation is routine. Hunter is apparently something of a genius, having graduated at a young age, but choosing police work because it is a noble profession. Garcia is a newcomer to the homicide division, trying to juggle his job with his marriage. Unfortunately, neither really has much of a personality, although they're likeable enough. Unnecessary padding is another obvious flaw, most noticeably in a chapter devoted to two guys who wake up after a party and discover a snuff movie, in which one of them recognises the victim. They're never heard from or mentioned again, nor their connection to the victim explained. What was the point?

"The Crucifix Killer" isn't the total train-wreck the review suggests. I didn't put it down in absolute disgust the way I did with "Play To Kill" or "Broken". Carter demonstrates some ability in generating suspense, as evidenced by the opening chapters, which are dangled before the reader as a sign of what's to come. He needs to start writing better - improve the dialogue and not flit between past and present tense (the narrative inexplicably turns to present tense when describing or setting up a scene, before diverting back to past tense once the characters start talking). He needs to tighten up the pacing - either remove those unnecessary chapters, characters and subplots, or beef them up and tie them into the main action more convincingly - in the end, "The Crucifix Killer" winds up almost being two separate stories. It might also help to not make your killer and their motive so glaringly obvious.

Yes, the author needs to do a lot of work to deliver a memorable thriller. But there is a small glimmer of promise here.

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