In his short, gruesome career, Cotter Banks—the eponymous colonel’s son—graduates from patricide to serial murder, with gleeful forays into drugs, kidnapping and sexual torture in Jennings’ debut thriller.
Set in Dillon, Texas, “a Town of 9,000 Friendly Folks and a Couple of Old Grouches,” Jennings’ novel almost immediately grabs the reader’s attention with the brutal, premeditated murder of Frank “Buck” Banks, a retired Air Force colonel, by his college-age son. Unlike most killers in suspense stories, Cotter is not rich, brilliant or charismatic; in fact, he’s a goofy, egotistical stoner with loser friends who makes so many mistakes, forensically speaking, in his escalating homicidal rage that there’s no question he’ll be brought to justice. The fun here is in how and by whom. Enter heroic retired U.S. Marshall and acting-sheriff Will Clayton, who deputizes Don Taggert, ex–Dallas Police Department vice-squad superstar, to assist him in his search for the “Right Hand Killer,” so dubbed after Banks’ grisly signature MO. Unpleasant family secrets are discovered along with almost comically gruesome crime scenes—and, for one lucky lawman, romance beckons. Soon the bloody trail leads Clayton and Tag right to Cotter’s ripped-from-the-headlines hidden lair, where an unexpected appearance by a mysterious forensics expert provides the set-up for a possible sequel. All of this may be standard fare, but what the novel lacks in actual mystery, it makes up for with old-fashioned blood, guts and character development. While Jennings’ tidy, folksy prose is a notch above most regional-inflected page-turners, it never strays too far into the elusive realm of Cormac McCarthy–esque “literature,” which makes it all the more appealing. The only serious problem with this book is one of proportion: Its oversized format makes it an uncomfortable fit in drugstore bookracks or commuters’ hands—the natural habitats of such popular thrillers.
Jennings’ debut presents a y’all-infused alternative for fans of John Sanford or James Patterson.