I'm a regular reader of Jack Badelaire's excellent blog Post-Modern Pulps, so I knew he and I share some of the same tastes in reading material. Because of that I figured there was a good chance I'd enjoy his first novel KILLER INSTINCTS. What I didn't really expect was that it would turn out to be one of the best books I've read so far this year.
College student William Lynch is vacationing in
with his girlfriend when his parents and sister are killed in a mob hit orchestrated by the powerful crime family of a rapist and murderer William's father was prosecuting. Seeking vengeance, William turns to his uncle, who moves in the shadowy circles of mercenaries and professional soldiers of fortune. Unwilling to take up the cause of revenge himself, William's uncle puts him in touch with another "operator" who will train him and help him set up his bloody vendetta. Paris
That's pretty much the entire plot of the book, and since it's narrated by William in a flashback after an opening scene set ten years later, we know he survives. What makes KILLER INSTINCTS work so well is some fine writing that goes deeper into the characterization than is sometimes found in action/adventure fiction. More than half of the book is taken up with William's training in isolated
West Texas locations by the enigmatic figure Richard, his uncle's old friend. There are plenty of details about survival and fighting techniques, but Badelaire never lets things turn into a lecture. Even when William and Richard are discussing the philosophy of violence, the dialogue is crisp, fast-moving, and often funny despite the grim circumstances.
The action scenes are also top-notch, well written and easy to follow. More than anything, the character of William carries this book. He's no superhero, and he's complex enough that the reader can't help but root for him.
Even though the plot falls into the urban vigilante category, more than anything else KILLER INSTINCTS reminds me of the early Matt Helm novels by Donald Hamilton. William is a private operator, not a government agent, but I can see some Matt Helm in him. If you're looking for a well-written, involving thriller, you should definitely check this one out.