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The Killing Lessons


The Killing Lessons

Let’s all admit it. There are books we start and want to finish but don’t. Life gets in the way for one reason or another. They pile up in what I call a “someday” patch. Then there are books that we start but deliberately and permanently set aside. Then you have books like THE KILLING LESSONS, which, from the first sentence, grows tentacles in your brain that expand exponentially page by page, and such mundane things as work, school, family, eating, drinking and sleeping become secondary matters. Yes, it’s that good.

“Saul Black,” credited as the author, is a pseudonym for Glen Duncan, who is primarily known for his acclaimed work in the horror genre. THE KILLING LESSONS is probably best classified as a semi-literary police procedural novel that at times bleeds over into Duncan territory, but fans of well-written stories that just incidentally keep readers on the edge of their seats should not hesitate to pick up this volume immediately. Black, like a stage juggler, starts a plate or two spinning at the beginning of the book and gradually adds others into the mix while never losing track of the plot.

"Black, like a stage juggler, starts a plate or two spinning at the beginning of the book and gradually adds others into the mix while never losing track of the plot."

That plot is driven by two serial killers who have formed a rough partnership that, over a period of a few years, has resulted in multiple killings across the United States. We first meet the pair in Colorado, shortly before Christmas, as they pay a tragic visit to a widowed mother and her two children. One of them --- 10-year-old Nell --- escapes, but is badly injured and winds up in a situation where she cannot alert anyone (well, almost anyone) to what has happened or do much to save herself.

Meanwhile, a San Francisco homicide detective named Valerie Hart has been working with an SFPD task force to solve the killings, which have touched her city and spread outward across the country. Hart is driven but is badly damaged, an alcoholic who is obsessed with her job at the expense of all else, including a dream relationship that she passive-aggressively pulled the pin on herself. Hart knows she has problems, which is why she is not sure, at least at first, whether the FBI liaison person recently assigned to her team is a plant who is out to get her or is simply doing the best job she can to stop the killings.

The killers keep moving across the country, even as new evidence of their deeds, with their extremely sinister and puzzling calling cards, keep turning up. When they abduct another victim who is practically in Hart’s backyard, her search takes on an even greater urgency. A break in the case, coupled with her keen powers of observation, leads Hart and her team to Utah, even as the duo, who are on the verge of fracturing, are ready to kill again.

You’ve heard of storylines with ticking clocks, right? THE KILLING LESSONS has a few of them going, and the alarms are all set to go off at different times. You may need to have a stent or two implanted before you get more than a third of the way through, though you won’t want to take the time away from reading it to have the procedure done. The great news is that more will be heard from both Black and Duncan in the future. I, for one, will spend the interim between now and Black’s next effort catching up on Duncan’s backlist, as I’m sure you will as well. You’ll want to lock the doors and maybe, just maybe, keep that shotgun within reach where it will do you some good.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 2, 2015

The Killing Lessons
by Saul Black

  • Publication Date: August 30, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 1250067553
  • ISBN-13: 9781250067555