A debut thriller in which a depressed widower finds new life by strangling young women.
History teacher James Martin and his wife, Gwen, have been married for more than 20 years. They live in beautiful New Worcester, Michigan, and after the couple buys a home with a wooded backyard, they find a hidden fallout shelter from the 1950s beneath their property. It has a ventilation system, a generator, and is connected to a cistern. The renovation of the shelter takes a back seat to installing a garden, though, so James and Gwen set about their quietly busy lives, he as a theater director at The Pearl and she as a successful painter. Life grows less quiet, however, when Gwen witnesses Jess, an 18-year-old actress, peck James on the cheek during a party. Though Jess looks up to them both as mentors, Gwen immediately assumes that James is sleeping with her. As James struggles to disentangle himself from the teenager’s life, Gwen continues to grow more suspicious. Then she gets in a fatal car accident, and James’ life becomes a depressing void. A chance conversation with a student about Jack the Ripper leads him to experiment with the idea of killing nubile, young colleagues in the fallout shelter, and he wonders if this thrilling new hobby might bring light back into his life. Author Martyn eagerly tests his audience’s comfort zone with a story that convincingly reads like something that belongs in a police department’s evidence locker. One may make superficial comparisons to Jeff Lindsay’s wry Dexter novels, except that Martyn’s character has no moral code; instead, James kills innocents and sexually gratifies himself for the narcissistic jolt. The book’s attempts at humor feel like cartoon sound effects in a snuff film—out of place and serving only to underline how tone-deaf the story is to its discomfiting nature. And although nonfatal strangulation may be titillating among consenting adults, this narrative takes that fetish to its most vile extreme.
A singular, but not very entertaining, roll in the muck of a murderer’s life.