A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Killer tale

You Can't Stop Me, by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens, tells a decent, suspenseful story about an America's Most Wanted-style television host who all of a sudden has a fat, juicy clue about his family's unsolved murders fall into his lap, allowing him to use the resources of his TV show to follow up on the clue.

In the plotting of the book, variety seemed to be the name of the game here. The book has a lot of entertaining scene changes, each delivering different flavors in the thriller palette: there are dark scenes of the murderer dispatching his victims; the dramatic assembling of TV host J.C. Harrow's criminal investigation team, with each member having a different, fascinating specialty; lots of thoughtful speculation on the part of the team members about the crimes they're investigating; and of course, a couple of dangerous confrontations between Harrow's team members and the killer.

The serial killer plot also includes a clever side mystery involving the origins of the killer's rage, which adds a level of meatiness to the proceedings. I also enjoyed the frank discussion of television ethics by Harrow and his team members: because Harrow is using his show, his very successful show, to track down his family's killer, would he allow his network to deliberately slow the pace of his investigation in order to generate more episodes before the killer was caught? How much showmanship overall would Harrow allow to take precedence, in light of the fact that the network was the sole funding source of the investigation so important to him? Interesting stuff.

Quibbles? Only minor ones. J.C.Harrow might have been a little more interesting to me if he was seen to genuinely enjoy his celebrity for its own sake, at least a little. But, no, it's pretty clear that he only went on television because of the possible opportunity it would eventually give him to track down his family's killer. It might have been more fun if there was more dark complexity in Harrow's psychological make-up: how would he deal with the fact that he loved being a TV celebrity, knowing that he only became a celebrity because his family was killed? Oh, well, maybe that's something for a future book in the series. And if not, so what? Harrow isn't the only ongoing character in the series, so there's plenty of room to plant complexity elsewhere.

Also, as much as I liked the variety of scenes overall, it did also suggest a kind of "trying out different things to see what works" sort of vibe, which slightly undercut momentum. To be fair, origins stories tend to be a little more slowly paced than subsequent installments of a character's adventures, and this book is basically the origin of Harrow's team. In any event, I've already started the second book in the series, No One Will Hear You, and a more consistent tone and faster pace is already evident.

But this first book, You Can't Stop Me, is still quite good in itself. The mix is solid: It's got scares and pulse-pounding stuff, as well as decent characters and more thoughtful stuff. And, yes, the pages never less than adequately turn, and often turn quite fast. Myself, I might have waited for the third or fourth book in the series for Harrow to finally catch up with his family's killer, in order to build suspense and anticipation, but I guess I can see the value of giving readers immediate satisfaction regarding the driving force behind J.C. Harrow's life of the past decade.

Also, the fact that Harrow confronts his central goal of justice/vengeance-seeking here in this first book might address my earlier quibble about J.C.'s personality. Where does J.C. go from here? If trying to find a purpose in life and a reason to be happy (or at least content) after a longtime obsession is satisfied doesn't make a character more interesting, complex, and compelling, nothing will.

So, yeah, I'm going to hang around a while to see where this thing goes. If you decide to read You Can't Stop Me, you probably will, too.

The thick, meaty You Can't Stop Me is currently a bargain on Kindle for $4.39.

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