Sunday, March 3, 2013

"The Executor" by Jesse Kellerman

Joseph Geist is a philosophy graduate who has effectively been kicked out of university because he hasn't satisfactorily submitted his thesis. It is now a work out of control. To make matters worse, he is also kicked out of the home he shares with girlfriend Yasmina.

Salvation seems to arise in the form of a strange job with elderly Alma Spielmann, who wants a "conversationalist" - somebody she can have intelligent conversations with. He does great at the job, and is even asked by Alma to move in with her. Life definitely improves for him.

Until the arrival of Eric, Alma's nephew. She openly admits that he's using her, but Joseph sees a bond between them that he and Alma just don't share, and resents Eric's presence. Eric makes overtures of friendship to Joseph, which culminates in what sounds like a proposal to murder Alma for the estate. However, Joseph's situation spirals out of control in unpredictable ways.

Not long after reading the terrible Bloodprint, here comes another book that seems to think throwing in a random murder towards the end qualifies it as a "psychological thriller". However, The Executor was a much more ambitious and successful tale in which the crime elements are actually the parts that let it down. The main character of Joseph is a self-important douchebag - but I didn't mind being in his headspace. Other writers who want tips on how to make an unlikeable main character interesting should take a few tips from Kellerman. There were a couple of times in which I laughed out loud at Joseph's observations. Seeing the world from his point of view was different and entertaining.

The relationship between Joseph and Alma is well-developed, with the author able to demonstrate in a short amount of time how close they have become. All of Joseph's reactions to the relationship between Alma and Eric, particularly the jealousy, is believable. Character-wise (with the possible exception of Yasmina), Kellerman has created layered people who seem like they would exist in the real world.

Basically, even though I was reading a character study more than a thriller, I was reeled in. Kellerman had me. I was ready to go wherever he wanted to take me. So why did he end up going down such a familiar and predictable path? The murders that set the direction of the second half just seem to come out of nowhere. The leap that Joseph's character takes to reach this point is sudden, as opposed to the careful nature of the proceedings up until that point. Before the murders occured, I was intrigued as to what might go down - particularly some sort of power games between Joseph and Eric. The focus on character clashes seemed to suggest it.

Once the murders occur, it's mostly downhill. We get an excruciating chapter that involves the dumping of the body/bodies, in which the point of view turns to second person. I think that's the term. It is all "you do this" and "you do that" (as opposed to "I did this" and "I did that") and goes on for what seems like a never-ending 40 pages. I imagine it was supposed to reflect some sort of disassociation on Joseph's part - as if he's watching his actions from a distance - but it's awkward and distracting and took me straight out of the novel. Similarly, the wound on Joseph's face that just won't heal is a rather obvious riff on Lady MacBeth being unable to wash the blood off her hands.

So there you have it. I found myself really enjoying the "non-thriller" build-up and not really enjoying the predictable crime-centric way it all panned out. Kellerman's previous effort The Brutal Art was so, so good and I was hoping that success could be matched here. Oh well.

On a side note, I'm not holding out much hope for the next novel, entitled I'll Catch You. The back of the book in the store doesn't give any plot details whatsoever, other than to say they can't reveal a thing because it is so shocking and unpredictable. Do publishers think people don't go on the Internet? I checked out Amazon and found it's entitled Potboiler everywhere else in the world and is an outright satire/parody that hasn't been too well received by readers.

Publishers - please be a little more honest with your product! If the entire industry goes Kindle, it won't be so easy to fool consumers and sales will fall.

1 comment:

  1. can you give me a description of each character in your perspective?