I have to hand it to John Lutz. When you pick up one of his novels, you better plan on giving it your undivided attention. He begins with a horrific crime visited upon an innocent, the specifics of which are revealed as the police investigation gradually unfolds.
"If Lutz’s novels were simply gore fests and nothing else, there would be little to recommend repeated returns to his work. But Lutz uses the graphic descriptions of the murders as an initial draw, something to get the clock ticking very loudly and quickly."
In SERIAL, the latest Frank Quinn thriller, Quinn and his quirky, prickly team are brought in as consultants almost immediately when a fiend who quickly becomes known as the Skinner begins preying on seemingly random people in Manhattan. The victims are all women, of course, and the nature of the attacks are such that we can’t describe them on a family website. Safe to say, however, that no matter what your gender or orientation or skill set, you will be checking to make sure that the doors and windows are securely locked and bolted before picking up and reading this book from cover to cover.
If Lutz’s novels were simply gore fests and nothing else, there would be little to recommend repeated returns to his work. But Lutz uses the graphic descriptions of the murders as an initial draw, something to get the clock ticking very loudly and quickly. The reader learns the “what,” and it’s up to Quinn and his team to determine the “why” and the “who,” as the Skinner is operating with a mindset that needs to be stopped immediately. What Lutz does is drop breadcrumbs throughout his narrative, some of which are rye, some of which are wheat, and some of which may be nothing but white bread distractions to throw law enforcement off the scent, chasing its tail.
Lutz also begins alternating the main narrative set in present-day New York with an account of a rape that took place some 20 years before in the rural town of Hobart, Missouri. The two storylines are seemingly unrelated, yet (almost) equally interesting; Lutz slowly brings both narratives together until they dramatically and jarringly intersect.
If that isn’t enough, there is plenty of drama within Quinn’s own team. Quinn and Pearl continue to do a romantic dance around each other, while the intrepid Fedderman finds himself in what is almost sure to be an ill-advised relationship with the sister of one of the victims. But perhaps most interesting, at least initially, is the fact that Quinn himself has a history of sorts with one of the first victims, so that her death, unintended or otherwise, is a shot across the bow for him. As a result, Quinn crosses some investigative lines that he probably should not, capitalizing on the weakness of a former police officer to obtain evidence in an effort to solve the crimes and bring the Skinner to justice. It is an interesting situation that is somewhat unsettling, even with Lutz’s deft handling.
Lutz, whose novel SWF SEEKS SAME was adapted into the commercially popular film Single White Female, maintains in SERIAL a cinematic view of the Manhattan environs, where life goes on even with a monster on the streets. Plot and character each have a hand in driving this particular book, which never lags for even a moment and is as enjoyable for its multi-layered puzzle as for its cat-and-mouse aspects. Those new to Lutz and to the Quinn novels will find a welcome addiction in these pages and will have some catching up to do with the previous volumes in the series.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 29, 2011