Book review: The Killing Lessons by Saul Black

Friday, May 15, 2015 Permalink

San Francisco homicide detective, Valerie Hart is on the hunt for a serial killer who abducts, rapes and tortures his victims before arranging them with seemingly random objects. Valerie gets too involved with her cases and feels too much for the victims; which means she’s teetering on the edge. Desperate to solve this case, she’s also busy staving off the FBI’s interference and contemplating reuniting with a former boyfriend she pushed away in the past.

Meanwhile, the serial killer(s) in question stumble across an isolated farmhouse. Their arrival is devastatingly bad luck for a single mother and her two children. Fortunately her youngest child, 10 year old Nell, is outside when she hears the gunshots and—after seeing the outcome of the men’s visit and being spotted—goes on the run through the snowy forest.

Injured and in shock she eventually arrives at the cottage of Angelo, a reclusive former writer intent on drinking himself to death. Unfortunately Angelo suffers from sciatica and the pair are trapped, cut off from the outside world by the snow and both with debilitating injuries.

the killing lessons

Saul Black’s debut novel is obviously an edge-of-your-seat-thriller. It maintains a fast pace and it IS very exciting. When talking about my plan to read this book I said I was relieved this wasn’t going to be your typical ‘extended hide and seek in the forest from baddies’ kinda book. And it wasn’t. I did however, get the impression from the back cover blurb that Nell (and what she witnessed) was the key to the police tracking down the killers and was kinda excited about the role she would play.

It’s not that I like the notion of traumatised kids (obviously) but I do enjoy novels in which children play an integral role in unlocking clues. But… it wasn’t like that. In fact—although I loved the Angelo / Nell story arc—Nell and her family were quite superfluous to much of the plot. Having said that, it was Nell and her plight which initially captured my attention and I was (at one point) a bit frustrated by Black’s focus on Valerie’s previous cases (her backstory), when I just wanted to know how Nell was doing.

The Killing Lessons was well paced. I read it in a night and didn’t want to put it down. I really enjoyed the investigation process as Valerie pieced together the clues despite a whole lot of crap happening in her life. The plot was complex but I wasn’t entirely sold on the premise —the actual motive underlying the killing spree, and the scenes at the end (the return to the scene of the earlier crime kinda thing).

But that really didn’t matter as I cared deeply about Nell, Angelo and Valerie (along with one of the serial killers’ victims we meet) and raced through this book.

The Killing Lessons by Saul Black was published in Australia by Hachette on 12 May 2015.

I received a copy of this book for review purposes.

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