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Book Review – The Killing Lessons by Saul Black

The Halloween season is just around the corner, and most horror fans will probably be revisiting their favorite films to celebrate. But why not change things up this year and delve into the mind of author Saul Black, whose new novel The Killing Lessons, releasing on September 22 from St. Martin’s Press, is just as terrifying and heart-pounding as any horror film.

In The Killing Lessons, a pair of disturbed and vicious serial killers have left a trail of victims across the country–women that have been raped, tortured, and murdered, with the only clue as to who could have done it and why being a seemingly random and innocuous object left inside their dead bodies. Homicide detective Valerie Hart has been driven to the breaking point trying to solve the case but is still determined to see it through to the end, not even knowing that a 10-year-old girl’s life hangs in the balance.

The short chapters make the pages in this engrossing novel fly by, with the ending of each one coming so quick that the reader will constantly be telling themselves that they have to get in just one more. The prose is like nothing I have read before in a standard crime novel. Black takes an omniscient point-of-view that gives the reader access into the minds of all the characters, often going incredibly deep into how they are thinking and feeling about their current situation. From the fear of impending death felt by the killers’ latest captive, to the confusion and determination of young Nell, to Valerie’s trauma, Black offers a deeply compelling insight into the importance and preciousness of life that people so often take for granted. It is an element that really sets the novel apart from similar tomes of its kind.

As the book progresses, the reader’s dread intensifies as they realize how Black has set the story up for all of these different characters to converge. We only get to know them over the course of a few days in the story, but they are all richly drawn and different enough from one  another so we are immediately sucked back into their part of the plot during their specified chapters. The dominant killer’s modus operandi, though not as fully explored as it could have been, is what makes him so scary and unpredictable, despite his growing physical and mental weakness. Claudia, the young woman the killers abduct, is no shrinking flower when she is put into the most horrible situation imaginable, and uses her brain to fight back. Little Nell is just as admirable as all of the adults in the novel, exhibiting incredible bravery even as her young mind tries to deal with the tragedy she has endured. The detective (Valerie) is the only somewhat cliché character of the bunch–the hard-nosed cop who is constantly haunted by her cases and uses alcohol to drown her sorrows. It is still interesting, though, that Black chose to make this character a woman rather than a man. Her habits and past transgressions don’t even make her all that likable, but the reader still understands her and wants her to succeed nonetheless.

Author of The Killing Lessons, Saul Black

Though the main focus of the novel is on the characters, The Killing Lessons still offers much in the way of action, especially as it quickly reaches its climax toward the end. The reader may feel a bit of frustration during a large chunk of the novel when all these characters are in danger, and Valerie and the rest of the police department don’t seem to be getting any closer to even identifying who the killers are. But once the apex is reached, things race along at incredible speed and based on how things unfolded up to that point, it was hard to predict where Black was going with the conclusion. When we get there, though, it is a more than satisfying end.

Black’s tale is one of true intrigue, with a style that allows him to cover all the familiar territory of a crime thriller while still imbuing in the characters a real understanding and insight into life and death. Receiving high praise from other authors in the same genre, The Killing Lessons is a novel that has all the elements in it that keeps readers up at night. It is beautifully and brilliantly written, I expect many more amazing things from this writer in the future.

Pick up your copy of The Killing Lessons on September 22, 2015 from St. Martin’s Press.

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Written by Michele Eggen
In addition to contributing to Wicked Horror, Michele Eggen has been writing about all things horror at her blog, The Girl Who Loves Horror, since 2010. She loves anything having to do with ghosts or the supernatural realm. Her favorite films are Poltergeist and Child's Play.
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