Saturday, March 31, 2012

"The Shepherd" by Ethan Cross

Francis Ackerman is a vicious, deadly serial killer who has left a trail of bodies in his wake. Ex-cop Marcus Williams gets pulled into his world when he comes across the latest crime scene, which just happens to be that of his neighbour. However, when he calls the Sheriff over to discuss something he has remembered about the scene, he discovers that the Sheriff has an agenda of his own. He's captured Ackerman and plans to deliver his own justice.

Marcus is strongly against this, which means he must be silenced too. In the ensuing fight, Ackerman is able to escape. He continues with his killing ways, whilst Marcus tries to elude a murderous sheriff. Things only get more complicated when Ackerman decides he and Marcus are two sides of the same coin - one good, one evil blah, blah, blah - and decides that their fates must be determined by one final encounter between the two of them. All this, plus the possibility of a government sanctioned vigilante group too!

"The Shepherd" gets off to a decent start, with some suspenseful opening sequences. Events soon spiral downward from there. Having a Sheriff with a posse of his lawmen chasing Marcus down to silence him is the first element that renders this story hopelessly absurd. The second would be the fact that nearly every character here becomes a complete boob whenever they get an opportunity to kill or capture Ackerman. He has more lives than a freaking cat! The person who has Ackerman cornered will hesitate, or bloody not do a thing, giving him the opportunity to attack or get away. This happens about every other chapter. It's infuriating. And Marcus is the worst culprit.

Next we have a serial killer who should seriously learn the art of "Shut The F*** Up". He's not content to slaughter and torture victims and move on his merry way. He must contemplate the nature of evil, why he is the way he is, and just about every yawn-inducing philosophical question you could think of. The author keeps trying to hammer home the idea that there can be no good without evil to fight, that for every hero there is a villian, and for every good crime novel there are about twenty bad ones. Okay, I made up that last point.

There are gratuitous scenes of violence and torture. I don't have a weak stomach, but it felt like a written form of torture-porn, cashing in on the now-faded craze sparked by the "Saw" movies. Characters are thinly developed, even Ackerman himself, despite the fact he never stops analysing himself or talking about himself. And that "final" confrontation he wants with Marcus? There are actually about three. Action descriptions are basic and repetitive, and sequences that should be exciting merely feel boring.

It is all capped off with one of the stupidest, most ridiculous twists I have come across in a crime novel. Yes, when you look back at events it is clear that this is not a twist the author pulled out a hat. It was carefully set up. But it's just so ludicrous! From the final chapters it's clear this is meant to become some sort of franchise. Considering this drivel, I won't be flocking to the store to buy any others.

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