Walsh’s debut novel explores the volatile relationship between justice and violence.
The story begins with an inexperienced police detective interrogating a murder suspect who quickly confesses. Allen Benson cops to the crime, explaining that he killed an unrepentant rapist who had escaped conviction because of some legal technicality. However, Benson also admits to killing scores of others, shocking Detective Michaels, the police interrogator. Benson insists on telling her the story of his life—the whole story, beginning with his orphaned childhood—in a clear attempt to unburden himself of his traumatic past. He begins by admitting that he killed a childhood friend who had become a junkie and stole money from his mother. Then, while serving in an elite unit during the Vietnam War, he murdered his superior officer. Each time Benson confesses to yet another murder, he claims the moral high road—they all deserved it, he defiantly claims—but even the simple act of confession demonstrates the weight his life of vigilante violence has placed upon his shoulders. Detective Michaels patiently midwifes the whole story from him and recounts her own secret pain; physically and emotionally abused by an alcoholic father, she still struggles with painful memories that stubbornly shadow her into adulthood. And while she initially responds to Benson’s confessions with abhorrence, she gradually develops sympathy for him, especially for his struggle to maintain a sense of goodness despite a life marred by ugly violence. And his penchant for violence is precisely what made him such an effective soldier. “The government of the United States had spent a lot of money to make me a living weapon,” he says. “I was already a killer when I joined. The army just smoothed out the edges.” Debut author Walsh, a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq, sensitively portrays the paradox of the vigilante, a contradictory pairing of moral rectitude and a cynical disregard for the law. At its heart, this tale is about the great distance that often separates morality and murder as well as the emotional weariness that results from living with a conscience freighted by memories of loss and pain. Impressively, the author poignantly presents difficult material without punishing the reader.
An important, insightful account.