John Lutz is one of those journeyman authors who is good for at least one book a year. He is always solid and dependable, and has been so since the mid-1970s. Movie fans also should be familiar with him, as his novel SINGLE WHITE FEMALE was adapted for the big screen. If you are not reading Lutz, you should be; if you do, then I predict that NIGHT KILLS, his latest work, will prompt you to move his name to the magic circle of your “must-read” list. It is, my friends, a breakthrough novel.
NIGHT KILLS features the most welcome return of former NYPD detective Frank Quinn, introduced in DARKER THAN NIGHT and most recently seen in IN FOR THE KILL. Over the course of these novels, Lutz has been sculpting a highly entertaining and memorable character with Quinn, a tough, smart cop who plays not well and only reluctantly with others. Framed and forced to resign in disgrace from the NYPD, he proved the city wrong in a court of law, was awarded a more than tidy settlement, and is able to rub salt in his former employer’s wound when he is called upon as a consultant to solve particularly puzzling, high-profile murder cases.
Quinn gets one in NIGHT KILLS when the torsos of two women are found at separate crime scenes. He brings in Pearl, another ex-cop who used to share Quinn’s bed and breakfast, and Larry Fedderman, a retired detective who is slowly losing his mind from boredom. This is quite a prickly trio, make no mistake; the torch that Quinn used to carry for Pearl still flickers a bit, and Pearl and Fedderman are engaged in a subtle but constant game of one-up. Quinn and Fedderman also possess a dry humor that the grim Pearl does not always appreciate. The rough edges, however, produce productive sparks, and the team moves slowly but steadily toward a solution despite having not only to catch a very devious and clever killer but also to deal with subterfuge from the NYPD itself.
NIGHT KILLS may look like your standard, though intriguing, serial killer novel. The murders are particularly gruesome --- the dismemberment of each body is not the least of it --- and actual clues, other than those that indicate the murders are the work of the same party, are few and far between. About a fourth of the way into the book, however, Lutz throws a curve you don’t see coming, and then another. Before you realize it, Quinn and company are dealing with something more diabolical than a serial killer and harder to catch. The perpetrator behind the murders isn’t compelled to take care of them, at least not at first. But enjoyment slowly becomes a factor, and it is a horrifying process indeed to behold. It is the idea behind the murders though and the thread that permits Quinn to slowly begin to unravel the fabric of the case that make this one of the most intriguing fictional works of the year.
NIGHT KILLS will provide you with enough mystery, mayhem, twists, turns and surprises to fill three or four novels. Just when you think Lutz is wrapping up, he throws something else into the mix. The result is an addicting wild night’s ride that will shock and surprise you right up to the final page.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 1, 2008