THE KILL RIFF by David J. Schow


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Schow's horror short-stories won him a World Fantasy Award last year, but this feverish first novel--not horror but a grand guignol vengeance thriller set within a rock-'n'-roll milieu--proves to be only a series of intense set-pieces blended into a stagy, ludicrous muddle. Freed after a year spent in an upscale asylum getting over the deaths of his daughter, Kristen, and his wife, California ad-man Lucas Ellington takes further leave from his job, ostensibly to spend time alone at his secluded cabin. His real aim, though, is far nastier: to waste the members of Whip Hand, the now-defunct heavy-metal band whose demonic music a year ago caused a riot that resulted in the trampling death of Kristen. As his pretty shrink frets about his mental health, Lucas gorily offs the musicians one-by-one, using lethal skills picked up in Vietnam; meanwhile, Whip Hand's former lead singer, Gabriel Stannard--rock's sexed-up, drugged-up, glowering macho-man supreme--plots to counterstrike, knowing that Lucas, who once threatened him, is behind the deaths. Before their showdown, however, Lucas is revealed as not just homicidal but maniacally so: when a battered young woman appears at his cabin, he tends her and beds her--and then beats her to death with a log, harking back to Lucas' sexual relations with Kristin and their joint murder of his wife. To wrap up his rampage, Lucas beckons Gabriel by taking that pretty shrink hostage in her L.A. suburban house. The rocker shows up heavily armed and, surrounded by cops and media, the two have it out: Lucas dies but Gabriel limps away, a well-placed bullet having turned him into a lifelong soprano. Although Schow's dragon's-breath prose exudes nastiness, his operatic, posturing characters are more silly than stinging; and by making his hero a villain who abuses every woman in sight, he undercuts reader attachment to his already jerky suspense. A few sharp notes in this riff, then, but the tune as a whole is way out of key.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1988
Publisher: Tor--dist. by St. Martin's