Released: April 2015
It’s with increasing frequency that books of the crime-thriller ilk fall into stale stereotypes and genre tropes. It’s easily done, there are only so many ways serial killers and the people trying to catch them can be portrayed. As such, I always feel a little nervous when I pick up a crime novel. Thankfully, that genre fear was snuffed almost immediately when I started reading David Levien’s Signature Kill.
The book centres on two characters: Frank Behr – the unofficial Private Investigator trying to find a serial killer – and the killer himself – a brutal and sadistic psychopath who prays on blonde women. Frank has found a connection between a missing woman and one of the serial killer’s victims, and he’s hell-bent on finding the murderer before he strikes again.
To say any more would be a crime towards anyone who hasn’t read the book, because the secrets lie in the case as it plays out from the perspectives of the good(ish) guy and the bad(to-the-absolute-bone) killer.
Behr is a typical lead character for this type of book; he’s troubled and world-beaten, a man who sacrifices his family life for his work, and yet he never feels like a walking cliché. The rest of the characters serve a purpose but are merely periphery, all except the killer of course, who is given the spotlight almost as much as Behr. It’s a risky move, showing the world from the killer’s perspective – and with it his sickening thoughts and actions – but the constant switching between Behr’s perspective and the killer’s helps to build tension and momentum as the book hurtles towards the end.
I was fully invested in Behr’s case, trying to figure out who the killer was as the book progressed and rooting for Behr as he tries to piece together the clues before another woman becomes a victim. The gruesomeness of the murders has a hint of NBC’s Hannibal to it and the way in which the killer displays his victims (or rather pieces of them…) like they’re his art and he’s their creator, has that intense horror element to it.
This is not a book for those who are squeamish. Levien goes into quite some detail on the killer’s torturous techniques, some of which I read with my hand quite literally clapped over my gaping mouth, disbelieving that such things are possible, let alone able to be written about. It was brutal, disturbing, fascinating and absorbing all at once.
What sets Signature Kill apart from other crime novels is the quality of Levien’s writing. The way the reader is given an opportunity to get into the killer’s head is both masterful and unsettling. I was mentally exhausted when I came to the end, as I felt I’d really accompanied Behr on his tough and persistent mission for justice and revenge.
I’ve always been a big fan of crime TV shows and Signature Kill fits right in to that genre, playing out like an extended episode of Criminal Minds or a grittier version of CSI. The fact that Levien is also a screenwriter and director comes across in the cinematic style of his story. I felt as if everything I read could be translated into a really gripping TV series or movie. Perhaps it still might.
Crime thrillers don’t get any better than this one. Signature Kill is the type of book that makes you never want to leave the house for fear of the human monsters that exist, but it also makes you want to pick up another crime novel for your next dose of thrilling detective duties. I’m already hoping there will another Frank Behr novel.