Fans of Gillian Flynn and Karin Slaughter: Get to know Saul Black.
Dark, gruesome, creative, twisty, his two novels — “The Killing Lessons” (2015) and “LoveMurder” (2017) — won’t disappoint.
“The Killing Lessons” introduces us to Detective Valerie Hart, who, like most interesting characters, is flawed and complicated and often unlikable. Two psychopathic predators (one haunted by the abusive Mama Jean, the other a poseur tagalong who wants a friend) leave a trail of bodies — most of them abducted, tortured women left with objects inside of them — and a lone survivor: A 10-year-old girl who holds the key to finding them. There’s a rhyme and reason for the murdering pair’s madness and as Hart slowly unravels the mystery, it’s a race against time.
Hart returns in “LoveMurder.” Six years have passed since Hart helped put the mesmerizingly smart and beautiful Katherine Glass in prison for a series of gruesome torture murders. But her partner in crime was never found and now he’s back — his style tweaked a bit — and he’s letting Hart know it. The detective, struggling to commit to a future not tainted by the worst of mankind, knows the only way to solve the cryptic puzzles the killer sends her in the mail is to go toe-to-toe with Glass.
Hart and Glass are drawn to each other, which scares the detective and amuses the convict. The verbal interplay between the two is great. Hart — and her colleagues and family — fear the collaboration spells nothing but trouble.
Valerie thought of her grandfather, the last member of her family for whom the Devil was a real entity. What had he said? First the Devil lets you know there are terrible things. Then he tells you which room they’re in. Then he invites you in to look. And before you know it you can’t find the door to get out. Before you know it you’re one of the terrible things.
There is witty repartee between Glass and Hart. Glass cajoles, flirts, ridicules, condescends and verges too close for comfort.
“I’m not saying we’re the same,” Katherine said. “I’m saying we’re close. You see the world for what it is and do everything you can to make it otherwise. I see the same world and do everything I can to make it work for me. We’ve both looking at the same blank canvas. It’s just what we paint on it that’s different.”
The killer’s MO is personal for Hart, but she wonders if survival would be worth it to the victim:
Weren’t there things you’d rather not survive? Weren’t there things that someone could do to you that would leave you so changed, so unrecognizable, and so immune to love that you’d wish you hadn’t survived?
It’s a story of love and betrayal, God and the devil, truth and lies, life and death. Just like Glass and her Man in the Mask, from whom hope “was their aphrodisiacal drug of choice,” pleasure and pain are intertwined.
The best part: Huge twists that I didn’t see coming (and I’m usually really good at predicting whodunit).
The writing is clever and creative, the crimes brutal and unnerving. An abducted woman, thinking back to what Bede, a monk in 8th-Century England said about life:
A little bird … flying through the night flies in one window, through the bright hall, and out the window at the other end. It takes no time at all, just a second. That’s your life. You’re the bird and the world is the feasting hall. You have to make sure you see everything. All of it, as much as you can. You’ve got a moment, that’s all.