The Inquisitor by Mark Allen Smith (St. Martin’s Press)-Mark Allen Smith introduces a very unusual protagonist in his fascinating debut thriller. Geiger works in information retrieval, interrogating people into telling the truth. His clients pay top dollar for his services, and he’s good at his job. He does have a few rules, however, and one of them is he doesn’t interrogate children. When his right hand man Harry, sets up a job, it seem like business as usual, but when the client brings in a 12 year old boy, Ezra, events take a startling turn. Geiger and Harry escape with the boy in tow, intending to get him to safety, but the client wants Ezra’s father, and they want to use Ezra as their bargaining chip.
Geiger has enjoyed years of relative autonomy from the human race. Other than Harry and his clients, human contact is kept to a minimum. The author describes him as an “apostle, a slave to the specific.” Geiger has a home with a wood inlaid floor that he installed himself. It’s intricate and complex, much like Geiger, and it took forever to complete. He’s a “student of the craft” of torture and keeps meticulous black binders that detail his clients (which are all called Jones), and the author follows this pronouncement with a hair raising list of various torture techniques.
His right hand man, Harry, a man that Geiger helped out of the gutter (literally), can’t even properly be called Geiger’s friend. Harry is all too aware of the amount he doesn’t know about his employer, and constantly struggles with helping Geiger carry out his work, even if it is just in the capacity of a mordid agent, setting up clients when they’re referred to Geiger. And they’re almost always referrals. Geiger is very particular about his methods and prefers not to waste a thought or movement. In the beginning, our only witness to the humanity that is buried deep within Geiger is during his sessions with a psychologist and the migraine headaches that render him all but helpless, to cower in a dark closet in the fetal position until they pass. These are painful scenes on their own, but set against the man that Geiger presents to the world, they’re gut wrenching. Lack of control isn’t usually in his playbook, and fighting the intense pain of the migraines actually becomes another exercise in control, of his body as well as his mind.
When a new client is brought to him and revealed to be a child, Geiger makes the split second decision to, well, split, and take the boy with him. Harry is shocked, but was already uncomfortable with the idea of interrogating a child, and now he has to adjust to life on the run. The people chasing them are ruthless, but what could they possibly want from this kid? Obviously Geiger is the main character, but a lot of the time, with thrillers, the “bad” guys can be fairly two dimensional. Not here. The group pursuing Geiger and Ezra aren’t afraid of a little collateral damage, but we get to know the man in charge quite well, and he’s constantly juggling the group of misfits under him with the all-important job of securing their target. His world weariness is a palpable thing, and by the end, he’s just about had enough, because Geiger has put him through his paces, and then some.
As Geiger spends more time with Ezra, he finds himself changing, turning outward from the implacable, cold existence that he’s hidden behind since he arrived in town as a teen with no memory of who he was, and few clues to his past. While readers will naturally recoil from Geiger’s chosen profession, as the story goes on, they’ll find themselves warming to this odd, fastidious man that chooses to protect Ezra at all costs, perhaps finding some redemption in the process
At the climax of The Inquisitor, Geiger isn’t the man he was in the beginning, and while this book works wonderfully as a fast paced thriller, it’s really Geiger’s evolution that’s the real draw. I expect we’ll see a very different Geiger in the next book, The Confessor. If you love thrillers with a unique twist, check this one out.