Sunday, October 23, 2011

A KILLER'S ESSENCE: Crime and Horror from Dave Zeltserman

There's a lot going on around me that makes Dave Zelterserman's September release, A KILLER'S ESSENCE, seem especially on target. Zeltserman's books have already staked out a lot of turf in two areas: Boston crime with the cold-blooded violence of Whitey Bulger and his associates (Pariah, Small Crimes, and Killer), and savvy horror (see The Caretaker of Lorne Field). With Bulger's recent arrest -- and his casual nastiness in accepting this, along with the possibility that he may be able to trade his silence for some kind of deal -- Zeltserman's crime fiction stands out as investigations of the minds of urban sociopathic killers. Mind you, there's plenty of plot with each book, too, but it's the insight into this kind of thinking that marks this author's work particularly.

Now, in the spooky season when horror fiction rises up and claims the front row, here comes THE KILLER'S ESSENCE. It starts out as a routine police detection novel -- except for the hint that the investigating officer, Stan Green, had a childhood experience of seeing "something" when a butcher-type murderer tried to invite him into the back room, so to speak. Other aspects feel familiar to the noir genre, too: Stan's got a rather sleazy girlfriend named Bambi, an ex-wife and two kids who are starting to despise him (well, the ex-wife is long past the start, actually), and a boss who pressures him into accepting cases when he's supposed to be doing things with the kids he's already let down so often.

But Zeltserman pulls this frame inside out in two ways. The first is a perfect fit with this season's TV shows that include the paranormal: He's got a crime witness who avoids faces because often when he looks at them, he sees, well, either hallucinations, or depictions of the horrors of some people's souls. (Think Stuart Neville's Irish crime fiction, haunted and horrific.) But there's a totally unexpected twist that this author pulls off, summed up this way: Who says the best path for a cop caught in a desperate situation is always to take a stiff shot of whiskey and watch his life fall apart?? Check out how vastly different the plot line might be, after all.

That's it -- read the book to discover a truly novel form of noir, smoothly written with immense craft, and raising some enduring questions and lingering images. Way to go, DZ!

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