Short Take: Insulting.
Who doesn’t love serial killers? If you’re a horror fan, then you know how the serial-killer subgenre has evolved over the years: It started with the guy in the mask, stalking around & killing his victims with a combination of a machete & brute force. Over time, as audiences grew tired of seeing the same moronic teenagers get vivisected over and over, the serial killer became a smarter, more refined gent who preferred to commit his murders from a distance, usually with a combination of over-elaborate traps and psychological manipulation. The latter is my favorite type of (fictional) killer. I want to be kept guessing, to see if I can figure him out.
The problem with a good thing (a bad guy who’s pretty darn smart) is that eventually, it heads into the realm of Too Much Of A Good Thing (aka, the Criminal Mastermind Cliche). And that, my darling duckies, is precisely where The Serial Killer’s Wife lands.
It started with a pretty interesting premise. Elizabeth Piccioni had a nice normal life – devoted husband, teaching job, newborn son. However, it all went to pieces when her husband, Eddie, was arrested & convicted of raping and murdering six women, keeping their ring fingers as trophies.
Elizabeth, panicked and terrified, does the only thing that makes sense to her. She grabs her son and runs, starting a new life under an assumed name. Six years later, she again has a peaceful, ordinary life, until she gets a phone call. Her son has been kidnapped by a man who is obsessed with Eddie’s case, and Elizabeth has 100 hours to find the finger bones & give them to him, or he will kill Elizabeth’s son in a fairly gruesome way.
Oooooo, now this is EXCITING, right? And yes, it totally is at first. Then it takes a hard right turn into You’ve-Got-To-Be-Kidding-Me-Ville. See, the bad guy is, as mentioned before, the cliched mastermind. He’s got all these great tech skills, and can follow Elizabeth virtually anywhere, and out-thinks her and out-maneuvers her at every turn. Which is pretty predictable by now, but can still work when you get a real feel for the characters.
Elizabeth’s side of the story, however, is just awful. For starters, she has no interior life at all. Zero. None. Wait, I take that back. There is a description of how she used to punish herself for thinking that her son would turn out to be like his monstrous father, but then she, I don’t know, stopped? For some reason? We’re virtually never given any insight into who she is. The entire book is all Elizabeth, all the time, but it’s just a narration of what she’s doing or saying, not what she’s thinking or feeling. Except for when she’s about to barf, we get detailed descriptions of that a lot.
Also, despite the kidnapper warning her against telling anyone, Elizabeth promptly gets pretty much everyone she has ever known involved. Her friends from before Eddie was arrested, the shady underworld characters who helped her get a new identity, even her current boyfriend. And let me add that the rest of the characters are just as shallow. They show up, serve their purpose, and disappear. The worst was the crime boss guy/fairy godmother, who randomly meets her, then practically adopts her and makes sure she has everything she needs to start her new life. Again, because of reasons, I guess.
Of course, since she’s being hounded by a murderous, obsessive, (but very smart & patient, apparently) psychopath, the bodies start piling up. Everywhere, all the time, character after character.
Which might be fun, in a way, but seriously, no matter how many gunshots are fired, no matter how public the site is (Times Square? Really?), nobody gets caught. Like, ever. And then there are the obligatory half-dozen twists & turns and final reveals that would have been pretty cool if I cared by the time I got to the end, when the “real” bad guy is revealed. Well, all of the real bad guys, there are multiple people involved who have ALL managed to keep everything secret for over a decade, because sure, that’s something that happens.
In short, if you can read without thinking AT ALL, this is the book for you.
The Nerd’s Rating: Two Happy Neurons (and my old Silence of the Lambs VHS tape. Because Hannibal did it with STYLE.)