A publicist for a crime tour drums up business by hiring a mercy killer, but his murderous employee may be choosing his own victims in this thriller.
Former investigative journalist Brinker hasn’t found much work since losing his newspaper job, having accused his boss of bribing cops over a reputed DUI. His newest gig entails public relations for Pennsylvania funeral home owner and local coroner Frank Mabry’s Seen of the Crime, a tour of murder sites. A lack of sensational murders has kept business down, but Brinker’s doctor, Timothy Jolley, has an idea: spruce up the tour by paying someone to kill terminal patients. The doctor will bankroll it, and Brinker can clear his debt, courtesy of a lawsuit relating to that DUI allegation. Seen of the Crime sees more tourists, but Brinker soon will have to stop a commissioned serial killer who may no longer be using Jolley’s victim list. The novel is a detective story with a darkly humorous twist; Brinker’s unquestionably responsible for the killing spree, but most of it is as much a mystery to him as it is to readers. He, for one, hires the murderer (dubbed Angel, for Angel of Death) through pal Stanislaw Niemoczynski and doesn’t know Angel’s true identity. There’s likewise a sinister pattern to the later, seemingly random murders, something that Brinker will have to unravel. He’s essentially the detective, and he’s a tad shadier than the shadiest of cinematic gumshoes. Not only does he know about the murders beforehand, Brinker also repeatedly beds various women with emotional detachment and prints and intends to sell I SHOT THE SHERIFF T-shirts, corresponding to a recent victim. Despite this, the protagonist remains likable, particularly because his firing from the newspaper was unjust and he cares for his ailing grandmother. And he’s still the hero, in a prime position to thwart the murders, even if it means becoming the unhinged killer’s next target. The story is somber but self-assured, like a film noir with a stylized, shadowy atmosphere. Widmer (Riding with the Blues, 2015, etc.) rounds out Brinker by outfitting him with snazzy dialogue: Mabry rejects upping revenue with crime re-enactments, noting that the tour’s “authentic,” to which Brinker coolly responds, “So is bankruptcy.”
Eccentricity at its finest in a detective story and proof that a flawed protagonist can still earn sympathy.