I had the privilege of attending the Killer Nashville conference in 2010 and witnessing something extraordinary. Kelly Nichols, who, with sibling Kristy Montee, constitutes the award-winning writing entity known as P.J. Parrish, was on a panel. At one point, she pulled out a large corkboard festooned with post-its, sheets of paper, index cards and the like. It looked chaotic, but there was a definite order to it; it was the motherboard, if you will, of a P.J. Parrish novel, a map of the collaborative process in which Nichols and Montee engage each time they create their magic.
"[T]he novel...becomes more interesting and compelling with each succeeding chapter."
I had cause to think of that corkboard many times while reading their new and seamlessly written work, imagining what plot line was on which card and who thought of what. I have my own guesses, but I did not let it get in the way of the story, which got better and better with each successive page.
THE KILLING SONG is not a Louis Kincaid novel. It’s a stand-alone work that begins in Parrish’s beloved south Florida (Miami Beach, to be exact) but soon proceeds to and across Europe. The catalyst that drives the story is the disappearance and murder of a young woman named Mandy Owens from a Miami nightclub. Mandy is the sister of Matt Owens, a hard-drinking reporter who is no slouch professionally --- he is a one-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize --- but whose job, alcohol consumption and personality get in the way of his relationships, most notably with Nora Brinkley, a Miami-Dade homicide detective who is Matt’s one-time fiancé.
Matt understandably becomes obsessed with the murder of his sister; when he discovers a slender clue that might well be a taunt from her murderer, it sends him impulsively flying off to Paris. He soon makes the acquaintance of a Parisian police inspector named Eve Bellamont, who herself is investigating a couple of similar murders, including one that takes place almost immediately after Matt’s arrival. A cryptic clue at the scene of each crime leads backward in time, and back and forth across Europe.
Meanwhile, the killer, a gifted musician, is plotting his next murder, even as he is aware that Matt is on his trail. What follows is an exquisitely played game of cat-and-mouse, one in which the parties switch roles a time or two, sometimes without being aware of it. Matt and Eve are unaware not only that they have inadvertently put a young innocent in the killer’s sights, but that they are going to acquire assistance from an unexpected source. But will the help be too little and come too late?
My initial notes upon reading THE KILLING SONG were to the effect that Matt Owens would not make anyone forget about Louis Kincaid. Still, the book deserves to be read on the basis of its own considerable merits. Matt is a very different character from Louis, not as easy to like initially, but certainly capable of carrying the novel, which becomes more interesting and compelling with each succeeding chapter. And while THE KILLING SONG may not be exactly what Parrish’s fans have been waiting for or expecting since THE LITTLE DEATH, it is certainly worth reading this offering from the Parrish collective, who never disappoint, either in print or in person.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 13, 2011