John Lutz has created an interesting concept that has passed under the radar of some readers but, for fans of mystery and thriller fiction, is worth a second and third look. The concept is remarkable: take a former New York homicide detective who was frog-marched out of his job, his ex-lady friend and a retired law enforcement colleague, and retain them in a private capacity to solve the cases that the police department can’t.
Frank Quinn is the ex-detective; Jewel, the former flame (for whom Quinn still retains a flicker); and Fedderman, the Florida retiree who makes the trek back to New York at Quinn’s intermittent request. Lutz, a veteran wordsmith, has chosen to infuse his primary character with age and guile in place of youth and experience; with URGE TO KILL, he has come up with a solid and compelling winner.
Those familiar with Quinn and company from such previous works as NIGHT KILLS and IN FOR THE KILL will find Lutz’s trademark elements of sharp characterization, compelling dialogue and graphic depictions of evil present in URGE TO KILL. Quinn is brought in to the hunt for a serial killer who seems to be targeting his victims --- including a retired cop with a reputation for being bent --- in broad daylight. The murderer is dubbed “the 25 caliber killer” and appears to be unstoppable. What neither Quinn nor the politically astute New York police commissioner realize, however, is that another series of murders is being committed at the same time.
When the victims --- young women who are strung up, bled out and gutted like hunting trophies --- are discovered, it creates a controversy: Is this the work of the same person due to the common elements of hunting that are present in both sets of murders, or is the commonality a coincidence? Quinn himself isn’t entirely sure, but under pressure from the commissioner, he treats the two cases as if they have a common killer. Jewel feels that the team is heading in the wrong direction. Additionally, she is at loose ends from dealing with a medical problem and her own conflicted feelings over Quinn. Sure that she was done with him, she is nonetheless aggravated over Quinn’s attraction to a psychiatrist who may hold the key to the case.
The true star of URGE TO KILL, however, is the intricate plot, which puzzles and intrigues not only the reader but also the characters who remain a step behind the killer (or killers) until almost the very end. In order to bring matters to a head, Quinn engages in a risky and dangerous ploy to draw the culprit(s) out, putting his own life on the line while inadvertently drawing Jewel into mortal danger as well.
Lutz knows how to keep the pages turning, and the pages that make up URGE TO KILL fly by. The prickly interplay between the perpetually smart-mouthed Quinn and the perennially grumpy Jewel is worth the price of admission alone, but the various dances between killer and victim and good and evil will keep you on the edge of your seat and steal your sleep away.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011