Gregory Funaro is an associate professor in the School of Theatre and Dance at East Carolina University. Based on THE SCULPTOR, his debut novel, I would propose that if he teaches as he writes, his lecture halls are filled to standing room only. Between reading the book and the nightmares I’ve been having afterward, he has had my full attention.
Funaro meets one of my benchmarks of great storytelling: he not only takes a topic in which I have zero interest and grabs my full attention, but also compels me to seek out more information regarding it. In the case of THE SCULPTOR, we are talking about the sculpted works of Michelangelo, or, more specifically, Bacchus, The Pieta and David. What Funaro does here is to put a brilliant, talented and horribly deranged serial killer into a cat-and-mouse gambit with a critically acclaimed university professor and a quietly troubled FBI agent. The result will frighten you and at the same time compel you to turn to the next page.
We are introduced to Christian, The Sculptor, fairly early on while he is up to his elbows creating his version of Bacchus, the first of a series of statues he is preparing to unleash upon the world. Christian uses stone in his work, but he also chillingly and artfully incorporates organic material, which, in this case, consists of a star football player who vanished on the eve of the Super Bowl. The reproduction of Bacchus is an aesthetic success, one that horrifically demonstrates an artistic appreciation for Michelangelo’s work and a mind so twisted that it almost cannot be described. The display and subsequent discovery of the statue causes an uproar, resulting in the FBI being brought into the case in the form of Special Agent Sam Markham of the Behavior Analysis Unit.
Markham quickly reaches out to Dr. Catherine Hildebrant, a college professor whose book, SLUMBERING IN THE STONE, has helped to cement her already established position as the foremost American scholar of the works of Michelangelo. Hildebrant is brought into the investigation not only because of her expertise but also because the killer has left a chilling message for her at the scene of the crime. The question for Markham and Hildebrant is not if Christian will strike again, but when. Markham is convinced that the answer to the killer’s motivation as well as his identity will ultimately be found in the pages of Hildebrant’s work.
Christian soon strikes again, leaving in a cemetery a reproduction of The Pieta that has special significance for Hildebrant. Markham and Hildebrant, using a combination of scholarship and dogged investigative work, slowly but steadily close in on The Sculptor, even as he prepares to present his ultimate work to the public: a recreation of David. What Hildebrant and Markham do not know, however, is that as they have been searching for Christian, he has been watching them as well and waiting for them to find him. And when they do, no one is going to survive.
THE SCULPTOR will make your hair stand on end, whether as the result of Funaro’s up close and personal accounts of Christian’s work, Christian’s history with his mommy dearest, or the last 20 or so pages. You’ll be gripping the pages so tightly you just might tear the book in half.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 28, 2011