No one would seem to have better credentials for turning the Atlanta child-killings into gripping suspense than Dr. Feegel:...



No one would seem to have better credentials for turning the Atlanta child-killings into gripping suspense than Dr. Feegel: author of the taut The Dance Card and Autopsy, he is also Atlanta's former Associate Chief Medical Examiner. Unfortunately, however, this is Feegel's weakest thriller yet, uneasily mixing a psycho-portrait of the killer (unconvincing) with an exposÉ of the bureaucracy and politics behind the scenes of the investigation. As we learn from the start, the sexually disturbed murderer of young black boys in the city of ""Birmington"" is Barry Putnam, 36, the light-skinned black Ph.D. (animal biochemistry) who happens to be assistant chief of the state crime-lab. (He was raped by a minister as a child.) And Feegel provides grisly glimpses of Putnam, who is married to a white polio victim, in lethal action--luring the children to his orgy hideaway, videotaping them, disposing of the bodies. Meanwhile, however, there are vignettes--smartly detailed but ill-coordinated--of the city's response to the murders: the pressure on the mayor to shift the investigation from white leadership to black (veteran cop Henry Willis is shunted aside, and quits); the rabble-rousing of an unscrupulous black minister; the ruthless quest for TV sensationalism by newswoman Joan Burke; the friction between county M.D.-pathologist Langdon and the less skilled state crime-lab (where the killer himself works). And when Feegel attempts to bring all these strands together in the novel's second half, the effect is contrived and thoroughly implausible: in the book's weakest sequences, newswoman Burke (Willis' new bedmate/ally) and Dr. Langdon each independently, accidentally come to suspect Putnam; and, after Burke is killed during her snooping, there's a Langdon/Putnam showdown. Ramshackle as a would-be-thriller, then--but there are scene-by-scene strengths (the cheerful racism of a heavily integrated city, the morgue realism); and those curious about the Atlanta case may be intrigued by the sharply cynical, possibly-insider views here of doings at City Hall and the Police Department.

Pub Date: June 23, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: New American Library

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983