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The Hundredth Man


The Hundredth Man

It is a point of interest that a number of advertising writers have
gravitated toward the suspense fiction genre. James Patterson is
probably the best known of these; Don Bruns is another. We can now
add Jack Kerley to the list with THE HUNDREDTH MAN. Kerley, a
resident of the formerly notorious Newport, Kentucky, has worked on
a number of advertising projects throughout the world. It is only
fitting, then, that his debut novel is attracting worldwide
attention as well.

The voice of THE HUNDREDTH MAN, as well as the subject of the
title, is Carson Ryder, a Mobile, Alabama homicide detective who is
one-half of a salt and pepper team making up the Psychopathological
and Sociopathological Investigative Team, or PSIT. PSIT is a unit
created to investigate freakish homicides. Given a choice between
groping around for something in the dark or finding it easily in
the light, 99 people out of 100 will choose the light; Ryder is the
hundredth man. The other half of the team, Harry Nautilus, is the
more experienced and, in some areas, the more reasonable of the
two. The men balance each other nicely, with Ryder's keen powers of
observation and deduction --- and something else --- supplementing
Nautilus's ability to pilot the team through the Byzantine-like
bureaucracy of the Mobile Police Department.

When a killer begins to leave headless corpses around the Mobile
area, it seems to be precisely the situation for which PSIT was
brought into existence. However, the team becomes hamstrung early
on by Terrence Squill, a Birmingham police captain who never makes
a move without checking to see which way the political wind is
blowing and who regards PSIT as a public relations window dressing
for the police department and nothing else. As Ryder and Nautilus
investigate the killings, often clandestinely to avoid
insubordination, they soon discover that the trail of bodies seems
to lead back to their own police department. Ryder's relationship
with Ava Davenelle, a forensic specialist with the Mobile coroner's
office, who has a couple of demons riding on her back, doesn't help
matters for Ryder, either.

The most bizarre aspect of THE HUNDREDTH MAN is Jeremy, Ryder's
older brother. Jeremy took the brunt of their father's sadistic
treatment during their childhood; now, damaged irreparably, he is
both mentor and tormentor to his younger brother. Jeremy has some
unique insight into the PSIT cases since he is himself a serial
murderer, and his ability to understand the workings of the
depraved mind can be of tremendous benefit to Ryder. There is,
however, a terrible price that Ryder must pay.

Kerley writes of the Mobile, Alabama area with great authority,
paying some tribute to the sometimes uneasy mix of the rural South
and nouveau Cosmopolitan aspects of the area that make it a bit
more unique than one who knew the region only by reputation would
expect. The basics of the story are all too universal, however. It
struck me at one point that Kerley could have set this story
anywhere --- somewhere else in the United States, Paris, Moscow, I
mean anywhere --- and its interblending of family tragedy, the
rough politics of the bureaucracy, and the tentative dance between
man and woman would still shine through. This explains, in part,
why this fine work is scheduled for eight foreign translations, as
well as a film treatment. Let us hope and pray for more from Kerley
and Ryder, and more translations.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

The Hundredth Man
by Jack Kerley

  • Publication Date: June 7, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Signet
  • ISBN-10: 0451215540
  • ISBN-13: 9780451215543