The Killing Lessons by Saul Black (St. Martin’s Press, September 22, 2015) – Nell Cooper ran. Her mother told her to, even though all Nell wanted was to stay with Mom and hold her hand. She ran from the scruffy-looking guy who couldn’t quite bring himself to finish off her mother. She ran, and she hid, and she knows he’s coming back.
Detective Valerie Hart has been losing sleep over a series of murders that on the surface seem to be random. Since she destroyed her own life three years ago with a case that almost ate her alive, a little sleep and a small problem with alcohol isn’t that big a deal. She’s going to prove these murders are connected, and then she’s going to catch the killer before he – or they – take another victim.
When she learns that there may be a living witness to one of the murders, she pushes her team harder than ever…but it might be too late.
The Killing Lessons has almost everything you could want in a mystery: a taut pace, enough near misses to make you shake the book in frustration, a couple of screwed up killers, and a heroine regaining her humanity, page by page. Valerie, despite everything she did to turn herself into an unfeeling machine, has to acknowledge she didn’t succeed in killing off her feelings; she only buried them. She’s not necessarily smarter than everyone else in the room. She’s just a dog with a bone, and the rest of her team are as dedicated as she. If she’s not the one scrolling through CCTV footage for the fiftieth time, someone else is.
It’s a long book, but it doesn’t feel like it. Black keeps you engaged from the moment Regina Cooper realizes she’s going to die to the final chaotic minutes of the case. And they are chaotic. Switching between multiple viewpoints where everyone (and I do mean everyone) is exhausted, convinced up is actually down, and quickly losing the battle to remain upright and conscious, it’d be easy to lose some of the details in the process. So there aren’t many. It’s a series of small happenings strung into a major event, and if played out in real time, it would have taken minutes.
Around the middle of the book, Nell is sort of forgotten. I’ve got mixed feelings on this. She wasn’t essential to that part of the story, but I believe Black is talented enough he could have found a way to integrate her into the main plot a bit more so we’d remember, oh yeah, The Killing Lessons is about her, too.
Bottom line: you want a book that’ll keep you one-more-chaptering long past your bedtime, The Killing Lessons is a good bet.
Copy provided by the publisher.