John Lutz is one of the mystery genre’s grandmasters. He has been the recipient of the Edgar Award and two Shamus awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. His novel SWF SEEKS SAME was the basis for the movie Single White Female, which did for picking a roommate via a classified ad what IT by Stephen King did for clowns. Even after 30-plus years of writing novels and short stories, Lutz continues to take tried-and-true formulas in the mystery and thriller genres and tinker with them, making them --- and each of his books --- better.
IN FOR THE KILL grabs you at the very beginning and does not let go until, utterly spent, you have reached the last page. It’s an ensemble work --- think, for purposes of a very general frame of reference, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels but much different --- with a cast of characters almost as interesting as the villain of the piece, a serial killer known as The Butcher. The victims are all single females living and working in and around Manhattan, and The Butcher is killing them all in the same horrific manner. The reader gets an idea fairly early on as to the inspiration for The Butcher’s actions, as well as the fact that he is sending a message to retired NYPD Homicide Detective Frank Quinn (last seen in DARKER THAN NIGHT), who has been pressed back into service to help catch The Butcher.
Lutz puts a spin on the police procedural scenario by reassembling Quinn’s old team, which consists of Fedderman, whittling away his own retirement down in South Florida, and Pearl, Quinn’s ex-girlfriend who herself had quit the NYPD to become a bank guard. The three of them together function as a well-oiled machine, even if Quinn’s residual feelings for Pearl cause him some wistful moments while (almost) not getting in the way of the investigation.
Matters are complicated, however, by the sudden appearance on Quinn’s doorstep of Lauri, his 18-year-old daughter from a prior marriage. Lauri has decided to leave her mother’s home on the West Coast and live with Quinn in New York, which will have unexpected and immediate repercussions for both father and daughter in ways neither of them can imagine or anticipate.
The Butcher, meanwhile, is continuing on his murder spree. And as a terrified city waits for him to do more damage, he prepares to make his most significant statement of all, one that will strike at the heart of Quinn’s task force.
IN FOR THE KILL stands on its own merits as an entertaining and enthralling crime novel, but there are layers to this tale that Lutz has interwoven into the fabric of the plot in a subtle manner. He has much to say here about father-daughter and mother-son relationships, and how things can go wrong (and right) with both. What stands out, however, is his continuing ability to publish a fast-paced, readable novel without sacrificing characters, plot or style. At a point in his career when he could probably phone in his work comfortably, Lutz continues to produce some of his best work. IN FOR THE KILL is yet another example of such.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011