A Savannah doctor’s life turns upside down when people suspect him of serial murder in this thriller tinged with the supernatural.
Surgeon Malcolm King is a good man living a good life in this fast-paced and suspenseful first novel by Murphy, a gastroenterologist and columnist for the Savannah Morning News. Malcolm has a loving family, a faithful golden retriever and a beautiful house. So when people link him to a series of gruesome murders, he’s desperate to discover the truth—at times even wondering if his sanity is slipping and he himself might be the killer. To avoid capture, Malcolm goes on the run, aided by a mysterious Thin Man who may or may not be trustworthy. As horrific murders of people close to him continue, Malcolm fights to protect his family and stop the killer. His good-guy hero faces an impossible situation full of spooky, atmospheric details reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart’s plight in a Hitchcock movie, and the thriller aspect works especially well since the book grounds it in ordinary happiness. Malcolm’s wife and daughter, even his dog, are fully realized, not pawns in a horror show; the Savannah setting is lushly detailed; and it’s easy to see what Malcolm has to lose. His work also comes across as both realistic—one day ranges from “ruptured appendices and walled-off diverticular abscesses to a Billroth II gastric resection”—and horribly similar to the killer’s grisly dissections. Flashes of humor help to ease the tension, and the camaraderie between Malcolm and other characters is a reminder that human connections can stand against evil. The sturdy plot structure includes red herrings, family secrets and a new direction just when it looks like it’s all over. Two clichés, each a bit of a groaner, mar the book somewhat: a noble, spiritual Native American and a medical condition often unfairly linked to villainy. The supernatural elements add little to the plot and can seem a bit pat, but they don’t get in the way of a satisfying finish.
An enjoyable, well-written and twisty thriller with gruesome aspects balanced by warmth, believable relationships and a likable hero.