Stephen White has gained a growing following with his novels
featuring Dr. Alan Gregory, a consulting psychologist in Boulder,
Colorado. It is to White's credit that he has taken a somewhat
unlikely protagonist --- Gregory --- in an even more unlikely
setting --- Boulder --- and created a successful literary
franchise. White's work is primarily character-driven, and while
Gregory occasionally is the catalyst for events taking place in his
life, he also is frequently an observer and a reporter of what is
occurring around him.
White takes the latter approach a few steps further with KILL ME;
the result is a work that is not only his best but also one that
will gather for him the heightened acclaim he so richly deserves.
Gregory's appearances in this novel are (but for one) momentary,
not momentous, yet they do not seem out of place or forced. Indeed,
this is very much a Gregory book, simply one told from the other
side of the room, or desk, if you will.
I read the entire novel in one sitting, compelled to find out what
would happen next --- and I was never disappointed for a moment.
One of the reasons for this is the anonymous protagonist, a
charming though not entirely likable narrator with more money than
God and the drive to match. He is totally in control of his life
and his destiny. Accordingly, when a friend sustains a terminal
injury, and Anonymous has his own brush with death, it gives him
the impetus to sign on with a nameless company that he dubs the
Death Angels. When a client reaches a certain illness parameter
that irrefutably signals the onset of mortality, the Death Angels
will terminate that person's life. The contract, by the way, is
irrevocable. Once one has signed on and paid for the service, there
is no turning back for either party.
This is all fine and good until Anonymous is diagnosed with an
inoperable condition that may remain benign for several more years,
or end his life in five minutes. Signs and symptoms indicate that
the latter, rather than the former, is a more likely occurrence.
But Anonymous is still driven to live for reasons of his own. He
has just one more thing he wants to do, and he won't let his death
--- planned or unplanned --- get in his way. With a somewhat
unlikely and most unexpected ally, he races against time, and the
Death Angels, to put one last thing right. The Death Angels are
very good at what they do. But so is Anonymous. And, for that
matter, so is White, who provides a two-part conclusion that, I
must confess, brought me to tears.
KILL ME succeeds as a thriller, a morality tale, a detective novel,
and, most importantly, a story. This is one that is simply not to
be missed, by an author who quietly has been creating and shaping
one of the more interesting protagonists of modern genre fiction.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011