Review

Killing Red

by Henry Perez

A reporter in the Chicago area, Henry Perez has published a
number of short stories and now makes his debut as a novelist with
KILLING RED, a tale that promises great things and fulfills
them.

The book begins with the arrest of Kenneth Lee Grubb, who is
responsible for the kidnappings and deaths of several children. The
instrument of his capture is 10-year-old Annie Sykes, who escaped
from his deathtrap and lived to tell the tale. Years later, Grubb
is about to face the ultimate justice for his grisly deeds. His
last wish before his execution is to be interviewed by Alex Chapa,
a Chicago newspaper reporter who cemented his reputation by
breaking the story on Sykes’s escape and Grubb’s
imprisonment. His request is fulfilled, and six days before his
execution, Chapa interviews him in a room on Joliet Prison’s
death row. What is expected to be a newsworthy but ultimately
routine interview explodes when Grubb hints to Chapa that someone
on the outside is finishing his unfinished business ---
“completing the circle,” in Grubb’s words ---
through a series of murders as a tribute to him. The last victim
will be Sykes herself, the girl Grubb has nicknamed
“Red,” who will be murdered just prior to his scheduled
execution.

The revelation sends Chapa on a frantic investigation to find
Sykes before the unknown killer can. This is a difficult task,
rendered more so by the fact that Sykes, now an adult, is trying to
put her traumatic past behind her; she has changed her name and
location to dissociate herself from the evil that has been done to
her. Chapa has assistance, the most formidable being that of Joseph
Andrews, an FBI agent with whom he has a longstanding if unlikely
friendship. Chapa’s greatest asset, though, is his dogged
determination and well-developed reporter’s instinct for
honing in on information. Luck, intuition and plain old hard work
lead Chapa to Sykes, who has a prickly relationship with him due to
his reporting of her original abduction years before. But Sykes is
in terrible danger, and Chapa finds himself in a race against time
to save her from a terrible fate that she narrowly avoided years
before.

The plot races right along, and is well-supported by interesting
characterization and secondary plot situations. While Chapa is
constantly at loose ends and a fashion disaster, Andrews is
organized at right angles and is the picture of sartorial splendor.
The exchanges between the two friends are by turns instructive and
entertaining. Given that Chapa is not a tough guy, he nonetheless
does not hesitate to interject himself into a dangerous situation
when called upon to stand up and be counted, so that on at least
one occasion he needs Andrews to function as a de facto deus ex
machina to pull him out of a troublesome sling. The subtle threat
of the loss of Chapa’s job due to downsizing also provides a
real-world subplot to the book, with Chapa dodging a meeting with
his editor even as he pursues a deadly killer. In addition, Chapa
is coping with the apparent estrangement of his beloved daughter,
who is living with his ex-wife in Boston. Dealing with multiple
pressures, he utilizes the strengths that he has to become a
quietly inspiring protagonist on a dangerous quest.

Along the way, Perez will really push your fear buttons,
particularly if you are claustrophobic or acrophobic. He begins the
novel with an account of 10-year-old Annie Sykes being buried alive
and left to die; if you don’t feel the walls closing in on
you while you’re reading this, you should check your pulse.
And near the end, Chapa performs a daring feat by breaking into a
seventh floor apartment through an outside window. I somehow
managed to read the passage with my eyes closed. But I won’t
be getting on a stepladder anytime soon.

KILLING RED is more than a promising debut; it is a signpost of
an author to watch and follow, as he keeps raising his own bar with
successive novels.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Killing Red
by Henry Perez

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pinnacle
  • ISBN-10: 0786020326
  • ISBN-13: 9780786020324