Dave Zeltserman is arguably better known to literary critics and to fellow authors than he is to the public at large, which is puzzling. His output is steady and consistently strong. Best of all, his books have the potential to appeal to even casual fans of the mystery and thriller genres. His style and topics are meaty and accessible. Read the first page of any one of his books, and you will keep reading until the tale is told; read one of his books, and you will want to read them all. Part of the reason for this is that while Zeltserman deals with issues pertaining to crime in all of its manifestation, his stories also concern themselves with the affairs and situations of everyday living that are important yet often hobble us in the course of completing tasks that are (or seem to be) life-or-death matters.
"A KILLER’S ESSENCE is complete in itself, but Zeltserman leaves just enough plot threads dangling at the end that a sequel, while not necessary, would be appropriate."
So it is that A KILLER’S ESSENCE, Zeltserman’s latest effort, concerns itself with the hunt for a serial killer in New York, and much, much more. It is told in the world-weary voice of Stan Green, a New York City police detective who is driven and dedicated, possibly too much so. Green is assigned to a case involving the brutal mutilation and murder of a middle-aged woman on a bustling street in broad daylight. There is a witness to the crime, who, interestingly enough, is unable to describe the killer. Green is saddled with a superior who is never satisfied, even with the best work. There is no succor for Green at home, either. He is living with a high-maintenance girlfriend named Bambi (who, he hastens to tell us, is neither a stripper nor an escort); to be fair, she is asked to put up with a lot. His children live with his ex-wife and her new husband out of state, and his promises to them are more broken than fulfilled.
There is one particularly heart-wrenching moment dealing with those promises that I won’t reveal in its entirety, but it has to do with tickets to a baseball game. The book is worth reading simply for those few pages alone. Any parent who has disappointed his or her child will want to hug Green in sympathy and smack him in anger. That, to me, is great writing, keeping the pages turning and causing the reader to search out the author’s backlist. Zeltserman handles that situation and others so well here.
When the killer strikes a second time, and commits a third heinous crime that does not count as a murder, but should, Green is on the ropes. Then an act in his past gets him crossways with the Russian mob. It looks like Green is, well, going to bite it, personally, professionally, and every which way. He doesn’t give up, though. He has many problems, some of which are of his own making, but he is able to resolve them when he stays true to himself. And when he gets some help from an unexpected source, it brings him closer than ever to the killer…and the killer closer to him.
A KILLER’S ESSENCE is complete in itself, but Zeltserman leaves just enough plot threads dangling at the end that a sequel, while not necessary, would be appropriate. And Green? I was screaming at the guy halfway through the book, but by the conclusion, I wanted to buy him a beer. And a ticket to a baseball game. Sequel or not, you need to meet Green and read A KILLER’S ESSENCE.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 10, 2011