Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Manner Of Death" by Stephen White

Psychologist Dr. Alan Gregory is having lunch (after attending a funeral) with his wife Lauren when they are approached by two people who turn out to be former FBI agents. AJ Simes and Milton Custer have come to believe that the person whose funeral they just attended is the latest victim of a serial killer targeting the doctors and other personnel undertaking training some fifteen years earlier. Alan Gregory himself was undergoing training at that time. Just about all the people he worked with are now dead, in situations that all looked like accidents. The only other person still alive is Dr. Sawyer Sackett, a woman that Alan was deeply in love with, but who broke his heart.

As Sawyer comes back into his life, Alan must struggle with his feelings her for, and how this affects his marriage. Also, the possibility of a killer lurking in his midst becomes more and more believable as Alan narrowly escapes death in a number of strange accidents. He and Sawyer must think back fifteen years to figure out who could be so mad at them to pursue this plan of revenge, whilst also not breaching any confidentiality laws regarding their profession.

I first discovered author Stephen White through the ripper thriller "Warning Signs", and immediately tracked down several of his other works. None have quite matched that terrific book - some have been good, others have been dull. "Manner Of Death" unfortunately falls into the latter category. Too much time is spent establishing whether or not Alan really is being stalked. Then we have a series of flashbacks establishing who might be so angry at him and his colleagues that they'd go on a fifteen-year-long revenge spree. Suffice to say, the motives provided are very thin. Another significant chunk of the story is devoted to Alan's feelings towards Sawyer. The author struggles to portray her as much more than a manipulative bitch, and Alan's dopey behaviour around her only makes him look like a naive douche. A backstory is finally provided that explains Sawyer's behaviour, but you'll be rolling your eyes many times before it is revealed.

When you have to throw a deadly stray mountain lion into your narrative to invigorate proceedings, then you know something is wrong. The identity of the killer is completely arbitrary and the final confrontation is decidedly sleazy, much out of step with the rest of the novel, which is, at best, a light mystery.

The novel makes several references to D.B. Cooper, who orchestrated a masterful plane hijacking and was never caught. It is suggested one of the characters could be that elusive fugitive. It was intriguing enough that I actually hopped onto Wikipedia to read more about the legend. If a book can make you research a topic further, you know you are in the hands of a capable author. "Manner Of Death" isn't a complete waste of time, and White has proven before that he can deliver a pacy, exciting thriller. This isn't one of them, but I'm sure there are others out there. And I'll find them.

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