Friday, May 23, 2014

The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper

This book had the potential to be a fairly good mystery/thriller. The premise is that a TV critic (who hates TV) and aspiring novelist, Patrick Rush, joins a writing circle, and shortly afterward a serial killer starts terrorizing Toronto using the same methods (and general vibe) as a character in one of the circle member's stories - the Sandman. Around this same time, Patrick and the other group members start to feel as if they are being watched by a shadow-y figure.

So four years later, Patrick steals the story from Angela, the circle member, and writes a best selling novel, because why not. Then the circle members start to disappear one by one, and Patrick has to figure out which of the ragtag group of weirdos is the actual Sandman before his son gets kidnapped (which we know is going to happen because it says so in the prologue).

It's a creepy enough story, and the real strength of it is in the many red herrings, reveals and unreveals. I don't feel the author ever quite achieves the "is it real or is Patrick nuts?" vibe he's going for, but there is an effective feeling of being alone and anonymous in a large city that was done well.

The big weak spot for me was Patrick as the protagonist/narrator. I am familiar with the concept of antiheroes and unlikeable protagonists/antagonists in general, but I suspect that we actually are supposed to like Patrick or at least sympathize with him, and I couldn't. He's an asshole, and a whiner to boot. From the very start I hated him, his description of how he longed to be a published novelist and envied people who were published. Totally natural feelings I guess, but it's like, dude, just write something. He even joins this writing circle and then doesn't even have a thing to workshop. What the fuck. He's also a smug dick about other peoples' writing.

Patrick also makes really stupid choices that put himself and others in danger. He steals Angela's story, which, obviously, she's going to notice, not to mention the other people in the circle are going to notice, not to mention he knows it might be real and doesn't he think it might piss off the killer? Then he doesn't tell the cops anything, even the solid stuff like someone breaking into his house, or threatening his life on the internet, because he thinks he needs to play the killer's game or some nonsense. THEN, when the killer leaves the body of one of his writing circle colleagues in his shed just to fuck with him, instead of calling the cops, he cuts the body up and disposes of it...because he thinks he'll be accused of the murder. Well you would probably stand less of a chance of being accused if you'd told the cops about all the other stuff, buddy!

I know characters make bad choices in fiction all the time, particularly in horror fiction, and it can often be excused by adrenaline or fear or already-established stupidity. But what bothered me about Patrick's choices is that they didn't make sense for him as a character - as the narrator, he never convinced me of his reasoning. It really bugged me. Also, at one point when confronting a woman he slept with once and whom he now suspects of being the killer, Patrick says - not "I hate you," not even "You fucking bitch" - but "I wish I'd fucked you in the ass."

I wish I'd fucked you in the ass.

I'm sorry, I don't care how upset your character is supposed to be, there's about a million better ways to show it than that misogynistic piece of garbage writing. I actually put the book down at that point and said out loud, "Fuck right off." I got some looks.

So, in conclusion, this book could have been so much more, but it wasn't. I can't really recommend it, but I would probably give the author another try, because he seems like a talented fellow.

Two CN Towers out of five.

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