You cannot begin reading a Gregory Funaro novel without coming out smarter on the other end of it. Funaro, who divides his time between writing books and laboring in the halls of academia, is becoming known as the go-to guy for fast-paced, intellectual novels involving multiple murders. His debut, THE SCULPTOR, introduced Sam Markham, a brilliant and sadly troubled FBI agent whose life has been touched with and driven by tragedy. THE IMPALER, Funaro’s new offering, presents the return of Markham and introduces one of the most bizarre antagonists you are likely to encounter in thriller fiction this year.
The Impaler, as the murderer comes to be known, sees himself as an entity named “The General,” who in turn is at the beck and call of another entity known as “The Prince.” The reader learns soon enough precisely who The General is, though that is only part of the mystery that drives the book. The real core of the mystery is what drives the Impaler to do what he does, leaving his victims at various isolated places around metropolitan Raleigh, North Carolina, with apparent little regard for whether they are found or not. At first, the victims seem to have little in common, given that one is an attorney, another a tattoo artist, the third a college student, and the fourth a gangbanger. It is the grisly method of their deaths that unite them.
Funaro, as with all matters that fall into his purview within his novels, does his homework. I assure you that by the time you’re finished with the book you will know as much as you could possibly wish to know about that method of torture and death, and you will not look at a platter of beef teriyaki with quite the same yearning. Markham is called in to guide the investigation and immediately begins to attempt to crawl into the labyrinthine mind of the killer. This is complex stuff, to say the least, with Markham and his target delving into astronomy, ancient mythology and history, among other areas of study. Yet Markham learns the most and acquires his first big break in the case, not by study but with a few minutes of kindness, acquiring a thread of information that he follows to another thread, and yet another, until he gradually finds himself on the right track. Along the way, we learn about The General as well, from childhood to adulthood, precisely how a monster is made, and of what horrors a monster is capable.
The result is a dense, complex plot that does not tether or hinder the pacing of the story one bit. The last two-thirds of the book, in fact, is a mental downhill race --- no brakes allowed --- that will leave readers clinging to the edge of their seats by their fingernails by the time they reach the finish line. The ending is a rough one, to say the least, cataclysmic and horrific and satisfyingly exhaustive, one that will make readers appreciate not only their own childhoods but also the quiet of their own daily lives, not to mention the people like Markham who stand, quiet and unnoticed, ready to protect them.
Funaro is a deep and careful writer, one who elevates his subject matter and genre to a new level. I would like to see much more from him in the years to come. There is something about THE IMPALER that causes me to believe that Funaro is a household name in the making.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 28, 2011