IN THE HEAT OF THE SUMMER by John Katzenbach


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Psycho killings in Miami--from the sometimes sharp, sometimes morbid and earnestly self-conscious viewpoint of a crime journalist. Narrator Malcolm Anderson of the Journal is first on the scene when the body of a pretty teenager is found bound and shot through the head. He interviews the grieving parents, writes it all up with zest, but has some troubling arguments about reportorial detachment (or coldness?) with live-in girlfriend Christine, a nurse. And then Malcolm finds himself getting far more ambivalently involved--when the killer telephones him: this verbose psychopath, a Vietnam vet, spills out his life story to Malcolm, promising more murders and explaining his motive. (""I decided. . . that I would bring my own horror to them, all the complaisant ones, the ones who sent me there uselessly."") More murders follow, as do more phone-calls. Malcolm cooperates with the police--who are unable (for not-fully-persuasive technical reasons) to trace these marathon calls, in which the killer gives clues to his identity and describes the murders in detail. ""I wondered if I was starting to need him as much as he needed me,"" thinks Malcolm; and then he visits a creepy Vietnam vet who, claiming to have served alongside the killer, explains that the murders are re-creating the deaths in a My Lai-like massacre (Malcolm, implausibly slow, doesn't suspect--as many readers will--that this Vietnam vet is the killer himself.) Finally, however, the killer supplies enough clues for the police to finger him, then disappears. And when a mutilated body is found in the Everglades, Malcolm identifies it as that of the killer--a lie, perhaps, but one that will, says Malcolm, ""set the city free"" from fear. First-novelist Katzenbach, a Miami reporter, writes with gritty conviction as long as he sticks to the plain details of crime coverage. On the psychology of journalism, however, he's neither original nor engaging. (""I just watch and record. Sometimes I think of myself as a camera."") And the other aspects of his ambitious, uncertain novel tend to be overdone: Christine's reactions to cancer operations are contrasted with Malcolm's reactions to murder; the killer's monologues are interminable yet unconvincing; the collapse of the Christine relationship (""You care more for the story than for me"") is far too neat. As a serious treatment of crime-journalism, then, this is more well-meaning than provocative; as a mass-murder thriller, however, it has its grim, chilling moments.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum