THE TRAVELER by John Katzenbach

THE TRAVELER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Katzenbach's fast psycho-killer thriller, In the Heat of the Summer (1982), was, despite murky excesses, grimly effective--and became a film, The Mean Season. This second effort in the genre, however, is nearly devoid of chills or suspense--thanks to unpersuasive characters, sluggish pacing, and a thin, far-fetched, painfully belabored plot. There's some grisly impact at the start--as Det. Mercedes Barren of the Miami Police learns that her beloved niece Susan has apparently become the latest victim of a local serial killer: an Arab student who is promptly arrested. Soon, however, Barren becomes convinced that the Arab is guilty of all the murders except Susan's, that Susan was killed by someone else (a ""copycat"" crime). And while the obsessed cop begins investigating on her own, we meet--in alternating chapters--the super-psycho who murdered Susan: he's a photojournalist named Douglas Jeffers who goes around the country committing ""copycat"" killings ""for pleasure. ""Det. Barren, thanks to a much-too-convenient clue, eventually identifies Jeffers as the killer, goes looking for him, and winds up meeting Jeffers' brother Martin, a psychiatrist who works with sex offenders. Meanwhile, Jeffers kidnaps college student Anne Hampton, tortures her (some porno-exploitation here), forces her to become his companion/biographer, and drags her around the country as he kills at random, revisits old crime-scenes, and delivers tedious lectures on the art of murder. And finally, after Barren persuades the horrified Martin to help her, there's a predictable showdown-ordeal on Martha's Vineyard. Despite interminable speeches and lumbering flashbacks, Jeffers never becomes an even half-plausible psycho. Likewise, maudlin interior monologues fail to make the other primary characters believable or sympathetic. So the result, with two-thirds padding and one-third story, is slow and limp, often distasteful yet never disturbing--a pale imitation of such tree genre standouts as Thomas Harris' Red Dragon. (But allow for the effects of a $150,000 ad campaign.)

Pub Date: March 9th, 1987
Publisher: Putnam