440 pages, Suspense/Thriller
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
They Never Die Quietly, The Boogle’s Page One Contest winner, is a gripping and gruesome commentary on religious fundamentalism involving a Buffalo Bill style villain who acts on God’s will with unwavering and absolute authority. Simon, a name that means “God has heard” is a deranged rapist-serial killer with a fondness for gourmet food, fine wine, elegant shoes and manners befitting the royal family. He also likes to crucify his victims, cut their hearts from their chests and display these sacrificial organs in glass jars. A young Hannibal Lecter with a charming mask of sanity, Simon convinces himself that he is driven by his devotion to God yet is constantly tormented by voices in his head that call him to act on the Maker’s behalf and “cleanse” the souls of sinners (who all happen to be young, attractive females with small children).
The good guys are lead by Sami Rizzo, a confident homicide detective and single mother who has been living her life to please her deceased father. When she’s assigned to Simon’s case we know we are heading towards a certain showdown Silence of the Lambs style.
There are times when this book is incredibly violent and at one point, so gruesome that I had to set it down and take a few breaths. This speaks to Annechino’s success as a writer. He has constructed a thoughtful and compelling suspense thriller, filled with vivid details, where the reader reacts to Simon’s harrowing murders by almost immediately praying that he suffers, which makes us automatically root for Rizzo. The up-front violence is so disturbing that when we’re not in Simon’s basement watching this religious fanatic use his faith to reconcile his sick obsession to torture women and young children, you’d think the rest of the story would be dry in comparison. The author has taken on the daunting task of making Rizzo’s story as captivating as Simon’s and as we brace for the next murder, we settle into the story of a likable detective and her donut-munching, alcoholic partner who tries without much success to track Simon and end his spree.
The story works in almost every aspect and while Simon manages to be charming and terrifying at the same time he never completely defines why he chooses his victims. He claims they are sinners but also claims that we are all sinners. He arbitrarily picks his targets because they are female, young and have small children but we never hear Simon’s indictment of their sins. What exactly did they do to deserve the suffering he brings? When pressed for an explanation, Simon chooses the safe and easy justification of doing God’s will. In this sense he is spot on, steadfast in his mission and certain in his beliefs. There can be no negotiating with a man like this and he never once questions his faith and rationalizes any doubt by telling himself that God said so. And you can’t argue with God. But the story would work better if these women were seriously flawed and had committed unforgiving sins. Instead they are simple characters with no mental demons to overcome. They are in need of no cleansing. Even Rizzo is not much different after her ordeal than she was before and she never has a reason to redeem herself. She’s just a cop doing her job and then a prisoner trying to escape. Wouldn’t her story be more compelling, the ending more satisfying if Rizzo had realized the folly of her ways, that her cause was unjust and had chosen a path of purity? But she is not this complicated…and it barely matters because we like her enough to be completely invested in her triumph.
Next to Simon the most interesting character is Rizzo’s foul-mouthed, scotch-pounding partner Al. Once we get past the cliché of the icing-slurping cop and realize he’s a lonely, love-starved man he becomes a sentimental hero. It is a delight to join him as he scours every piece of information to locate Simon’s residence, like an obsessed bill collector skip-tracing a past-due consumer. As the story builds to an exciting climax with Rizzo just hours from being nailed to Simon’s cross, and Al’s leads fizzling into dead end after dead end, we cheer him because his methods are smart, his plan is noble, and he’s not only motivated by love, he’s doing this with an incredible hangover.
The payoff almost isn’t there. While Annechino takes Rizzo to a place where she cannot possibly succeed, the story is resolved quickly and the reader is left wishing that Simon’s demise would be described with the same dramatic detail as his crimes. We want him to suffer the way his victims suffered and we want to be there to savor every moment but his punishment is implied and left to our imagination.
This is a very good book and one that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a good suspense/mystery/thriller. It feels like something John Sanford wrote and would make quite an exciting movie.
Strengths: exciting and frightening villain, filled with fast-paced suspense
Opportunities: familiar plot, 2-dimensional hero
Will appeal to: readers of thriller, suspense, mystery or horror
They Never Die Quietly is available on amazon.com.
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, July 2009