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Friday, August 12, 2011

Play Us a Song of Death


Things would be tidier if the monsters in our midst were easier to spot. If they were hideously ugly, spoke only nonsense, had atrocious taste in music and art, and were so thoroughly detestable that not even their own mothers could be relied upon to love them unquestionably... then the rest of us would be safe(r) from them.
We know that’s not the case, though. Spend a week following the news, and it’s clear that most of the people who commit those heinous acts look and seem like the rest of us. From the inconspicuous wallflower to the movie-star-attractive, the soccer mom (or dad) to the designer-clad, the lover of pop (or rock or country) to the opera buff... oh yes, we’d be hard-pressed to pick the monsters among us out of the crowd. Such is also the case in P.J. Parrish’s latest thriller, The Killing Song.

* / * / * / * / *
In his professional life, thirty-five-year-old Matt Owens has it made. He enjoys his job as a reporter for a Miami paper and has a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism hanging on a wall at home to show for it. His personal life is another matter, though. With a failed relationship recently behind him, most nights find him home alone, nursing a bottle of whiskey, rather than out on the town with friends.
When his sheltered baby sister Mandy graduates from college, it seems like the perfect opportunity to shake up both their routines a little, so he invites her down from North Carolina for a visit. Her trip is a success; Mandy is thrilled by everything in exotic and colorful Miami, and the pair happily explore neighborhoods and beaches by day, before hitting the clubs each evening.
On her last night in town, Matt--ever the indulgent big brother--agrees to just one more drink so Mandy can shake it on the dance floor a final time. Idly sipping his drink, his eyes wander over the crowd, people-watching. When the song ends, he looks around for her... but she’s nowhere in sight.
He pushes through the sweaty throng, searching; he checks the restrooms and looks outside on the street, in case she’s already waiting. Finally, he’s forced to conclude that she has vanished into thin air, and he contacts the police.
News comes the next morning: a body fitting Mandy’s description has been found. She’s in a derelict hotel, a few hours dead. Her clothing is nowhere to be found; the only item of hers at the scene is her iPod.
A few days later, he plugs it in, hoping to reconnect with a part of her by listening to the music she loved so much. Much to his surprise, the last song played wasn’t something by Lady Gaga or Shakira, but an obscure oldie by the Rolling Stones, entitled “Too Much Blood”--a gruesome song about a man who brutally kills his girlfriend in Paris-- something Matt knows Mandy would have loathed.
Convinced the song must have been added to Mandy’s iPod by the killer, Matt googles first the song, then murders in Paris... adding all the details of the crime he can think of to narrow the search parameters. What he eventually comes up with stops him cold: the murder a few months earlier of a young American woman in Paris, the body left just as in the Stones’ song. Both the description of the body and the crime scene sound like those in his sister’s case. It can’t be a coincidence, so he makes immediate plans to go to France.
In Paris, he soon finds more than he bargained for--multiple unsolved murders, each with a musical clue left at the scene. Eve Bellamont, the detective in charge of the investigations, is convinced that an even-older murder--one she’s been obsessed with for the past five years--is part of the same horrible pattern, as well. 
As Matt and Eve pursue the cryptic musical clues, their search crosses the Channel into England and Scotland, too. Horrified by how many victims this sadistic monster has already killed--and by the thought of all those still in peril--the duo frantically chase down leads, getting one step closer to their prey with each note of music... desperately hoping to find him before they hear his next song playing.

* / * / * / * / *

With The Killing Song, the two sisters who write together as P.J. Parrish take a break from their popular Louis Kincaid mystery series and deliver something a little different. On the whole, it’s an enjoyable read--although to be honest, I don’t yet feel the same sort of connection with Matt that I feel to Louis. Matt is interesting enough, a smart and flawed character, and he’s believable; what’s lacking for me is the same level of emotional intensity.
Looking at it as a one-off (at least for now), though, The Killing Song is easy to recommend. The story alternates between perspectives, first seeing through the killer’s eyes and then through Matt’s, and it’s an effective technique, because we always know more than either of them... while still remaining in the dark about how the last few pieces will fit together (until near the end). The use of music throughout is compelling, as are the settings--from the vivid colors of Miami, to the varied neighborhoods of Paris (including fascinating trips through ancient burial sites, both above and below ground) and the surrounding countryside, to London, all the way to a remote corner of Scotland. My favorite part, though, is the relationship between Matt and Eve; Parrish doesn’t go the route seen in most stories, but gives us something unexpected... and welcome.
Overall, this is an interesting police procedural/thriller with some really good suspense... and it holds out promise for future adventures.

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4 out of 5 Mousies

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