Friday, August 27, 2010

The Knight by Steven James

book cover

The Knight
by Steven James

Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Signet
Released: Sept. 2010

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher.

Book Description, my take:
FBI criminologist Patrick Bowers finds a unique clue left for him at the scene of the second in a series of murders where the bodies appear to be staged. It's a tape recording predicting Bowers' own next move. At a subsequent murder, Bowers realizes the killer is re-creating the endings to a series of fictional stories contained in a book that was written centuries ago. Most of the stories end with horrible deaths. And it appears that the killer is reserving a place in the last story for him...

It doesn't help that his step-daughter has discovered information about her previously unknown biological father and wants to meet him, and Bowers has to testify in the re-trial of a serial killer where the guilty man might be set free if Bowers tells the full truth.

The Knight was an exciting, fast-paced suspense novel. Though it has a who-done-it mystery to solve, it departed from the conventions of the mystery genre in one major way, so I'll simply call it a suspense or thriller. This book was the third in the series, but you can still follow what's going on even if you haven't read the previous books.

The details about the job and the setting brought the story alive in my imagination. The good-guy characters were realistic, varied, and dealt with realistic relational troubles in addition to the dangers and frustration of tracking the serial killer. However, I didn't find the bad guy realistic--he was more a lifeless but scary character out of a horror story.

I was left feeling disturbed and irritated by the ending rather than satisfied. This was partly because the mystery wasn't completely explained. Though the killer was one of the four people I suspected (due to opportunity and non-obviousness), it wasn't obvious that he had the full skill set needed for the crimes. We're never told how he got those needed skills. [SPOILER] And then he gets away at the end, thus escaping justice to kill again (like two of the other serial killers in this series if you count the next novel). While I can accept a killer potentially being freed to make a point about our justice system, one of the reasons I read mysteries is because the real murderer is always discovered and stopped. Steven James makes the killers sick, deadly psychos, but he's letting them get away. That's the stuff of nightmares and horror novels, not mysteries. [END SPOILER]

While one character was a Catholic, there wasn't really any religious talk. There was a political "our justice system doesn't work perfectly" theme, though. A very minor amount of bad language was implied. There was no sex. The level of violence was high, but the gore was often implied rather than graphically described. Though I was disappointed with it, I'd still recommend this novel to Steven James' fans as exciting, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Thursday, May 15
Bearcroft Mine
The Rocky Mountains, 40 miles west of Denver
5:19 p.m.

The sad, ripe odor of death seeped from the entrance to the abandoned mine.

Some FBI agents get used to this smell, to this moment, and after a while it just becomes another part of the daily routine.

That's never happened with me.

My flashlight cut a narrow seam through the darkness but gave me enough light to see that the woman was still clothed, no signs of sexual assault. Ten sturdy candles surrounded her, their flames wisping and licking at the dusty air, giving the tunnel a ghostly, otherworldly feel.

She was about ten meters away and lay as if asleep, with her hands folded on her chest. And in her hands was the reason I'd been called in.

A slowly decomposing human heart.

No sign of the second victim.

And the candles flickered around her in the dark.

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