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I came across this in the library and thought the title and blurb seemed interesting, given how I love my crime thrillers lately.
On the cover it reads 'Author of The Hundredth Man', along with a quote from the Independent On Sunday: 'Fascinating and frightening', designed to draw you in. The tagline on the back is 'Even serial killers have their fans' on the back, plus more praise (but for another novel, The Hundredth Man'). I had seen positive reviews for Kerley before and have read one of his novels myself too so I was looking forward to giving this a read.
We're introduced to some corpses pretty early on; horribly displayed and designed to shock, one woman was made to look like a prostitute surrounded by candles and flowers, candle wax in her eyes. 'Art', just bits of it, literally scraps, turns up on or nearby the bodies. The link to the art suggests the murders may be tied to a 30-years-dead Marsden Hexcamp, a murderer and cult leader, and also painter of the artwork in question. Intro Detective Carson Ryder and Harry Nautilus, the much loved boys in blue I instantly recognised from reading a previous Kerley novel. They're put on the case thinking that it may lead back to a psychopathic killer, given the 'weirdness' of the cases.
Digging deeper and letting the 'art' guide their search due to lack of other clues, they go on a hunt for death collectors. There are auctions for serial killer memorabilia, where millions of dollars change hands so that someone can own a scrap, or the entire collection possibly, of Hexcamp's evil-infused work. The hope is that finding these auctions and those involved may provide clues to the killer.
Along the way, the two detectives must battle with the media, and in particular, one DeeDee Danbury, the relentless reporter. I won't say any more on the premise, though as the novel continues the plot does have a few twists and turns to keep us on our toes and gripped for the next surprise.
What I really liked about this novel was probably more the style of writing and the characters created than the premise itself. Kerley has a very fluid and easy-to-read way about his books, making this one easy to read and get lost in. I thought that he brought the scenes to life well and painted the characters in a realistic way, making me empathise, want to read more about them and feel more a part of the book as a reader. He provided enough detail on the characters to help us understand them, whilst building up their personalities so we can warm to them. Harry and Carson are quite the detective couple and the little quips and witty remarks are amusing, really making them feel distinctive as characters.
The relationships between characters, including the detectives, reporters, suspects etc are moulded well, which is important as the web of characters began to grow. I didn't find myself getting lost or confused or forgetting who's who as Kerley was able to keep it fresh and clear. This made the book easier to pick up and read, knowing that you could quite easily catch the trail from where you left off without any problems.
As for the premise, it was interesting in the sense that 'death collectors' aren't something that you tend to hear about, even though that sort of stuff does happen in dark corners. I'd say it was interesting and a little different, but still very much detective-orientated, so it satisfied my want for a decent crime thriller to get lost in. There was a sense of believability to the plot, even if I wasn't too awed by it or shockingly impressed by the ending. That's not to say that it wasn't strong enough to carry the book through, because I thought it was, but for me the characters and readability were more important and stronger than the storyline. I did find that it kept me gripped and wanting to find out what happened, so I managed to get through the book pretty quickly, only to want to read another Kerley novel because I loved the detective characters so much!
All in all, this is one I'd recommend, both for those familiar and unfamiliar to Kerley's novels. It's interesting and intelligent, easy to read and comical in parts with a style of writing I really enjoyed and characters I wanted to keep reading about.
Lately I have been really into crime stories, whether they be on the TV, in books etc, I have really got into them and been exploring all sorts of different sources. My Mum recommended this book and I bought it from amazon for around£3.50 with free postage.
The Death Collectors tells the story of two police, Carson and Nautillus who are Mobile police. They are investigating a recent murder when a tip off leads them to connect it with a series of murders carried out over 30 years ago, even though the perpetrator is now dead. The story follows their trail to track down people who were connected with the late serial killer and those who could possibly be involved now. Part of the depth to this story is hearing the tales of the people who got caught up with this serial killer and helped him, you even feel sorry for them, even though they could have prevented such awful things happening.
The story expands as a local journalist forces her way on board, and as the detectives discover the deaths are connected to art and the late serial killers love of art. The book goes really deep to have a look into the culture behind murders, and how others collect the possesions, and the effects on all those involved.
I really enjoyed the storyline and everytime I put the book down I would be left thinking about the story line and couldn't wait to pick it back up. I read quite a lot of crime fiction and it didn't feel like the same old story as these things can sometimes. The only downside to this book is I found the writing style quite hard to follow and I would have to really concentrate to understand what was going on. Luckily, as I loved the storyline, I made myself concentrate and see it through and I am really glad I did.
Throughout my life I have collected many different things - I am after all, a man. It started with broken pottery from my garden. I then moved on to bookmarks. For a time I collected fizzy pop cans. My eye was then drawn to videos. My book collection increased next. I then re-bought all videos in DVD format. I also found myself with a large collection of computer games. In fact, there is no hope for me even 20 years on after I picked up my first piece of broken pottery as I glance at my swollen bookcase and burgeoning BluRay collection. I may be a goner, but at least my collections are wholesome (to an extent). I don't collect murder weapons used in vicious crimes, or clothes of victims - unlike 'The Death Collectors'.
Detective Caron and Nautilus are being rewarded with a job well done, having just received police people of the year awards in their district. As a duo they specialise in the stranger cases of murder and with success comes responsibility. Therefore, when a body is found in a motel room covered in candle wax and other gothic paraphernalia they are the go to guys. However, Carson is unsure if this falls into their jurisdiction, one odd death does not a serial killer make. It's not until retired Detective Willow contacts them and tells them of a similar death 30 years earlier. An artist and murderer would kill people and leave his some of his work behind as a calling card. With art left on the scene has this serial killer re-emerged? Impossible, that man was shot dead in a courtroom decades ago!
I have read nearly all of Jack Kerley's work and cannot help seeing how cliché it is. A maverick cop with an old school partner set out to catch a vicious serial killer. Been there, done that - pulped the hardback copy. However, to dismiss Kerley's work so flippantly would be a shame as he is one of the best writers of cliché fiction and this book, alongside the later 'Blood Brother', is the best in the series. In terms of story 'Death Collectors' does not break any new ground - it's pretty linear and the number of potential suspects if too small. I am also always dubious when a book contains too many coincidences to be truthful as this book does. However, even on the basic level of story Kerley investigates the world of collectables and this is an interesting take on the genre. I for one enjoyed the moments of the book that delved into this macabre world.
It's not the story as such that made 'Death Collectors' an enjoyable book, but the characters. I have really grown fond to Carson and Nautilus. The relationship they have is very much a buddy cop scenario, but this is not always an easy thing to get on paper, but Kerley manages to. I particularly like Carson who appears to be a bit of a pompous intellectual always putting his foot in it as he acts a little sarcastic and superior at times. However, he does it in a charismatic way and gets the results needed for his to be left to his own maverick ways.
In terms of structure the book almost feels like two types of crime novel. For the first three quarters of the book you have an engaging whodunit as Carson gets closer to what exactly is going on. However, as soon as he understands the truth the book becomes a little silly as an all out actionfest occurs. Personally, I have no issue with this as it makes the conclusion an exciting one, but unfortunately also a slightly confusing one.
Another area that Kerley could have undermined his book with was Carson's relationship with his brother. The Carson books USP is the fact that he has a serial killer brother locked in an asylum who would aid him in catching killers by giving the detective an insider viewpoint. I found this process a little cheesy and the character of the brother annoying (until 'Blood Brother' when he comes into his own). However, this is avoided in 'Death Collectors' by having him only appear minimally and the book benefits greatly for it. So if you have read other books in the series and have been put off by this strained relationship, don't worry.
Overall, I enjoyed 'The Death Collectors' a lot. The characters of Carson and Nautilus are extremely readable and add to this the interesting idea of collectors of dark materials and you are on to a winner. There are negatives in the book as the story itself loses its way towards the end. However, the charismatic leads and exciting finale means that I can overlook this. A simple and quick book, 'The Death Collectors' is ideal for any crime fan wanting a simple and fun read.
Author: Jack Kerley
Price: amazon uk - £5.49
play.com - £5.49
It's 1972 and Marsden Hexcamp is in court awaiting sentencing after three weeks on trial for murder. Death by electrocution is announced as punishment for his hideous crimes, only that won't actually be necessary...a mysterious weeping woman quickly enters the room and shoots Hexcamp at point blank range, then proceeding to turn the gun on herself, bringing an end to her tears.
Thirty years later, a murder has been committed in Mobile, Alabama. The gruesome manner in which the corpse has been 'displayed' suggests a rather sadistic mind at work. Detectives Carson Ryder and Harry Nautilus are called in to investigate. As the duo who form the local Psychopathological and Sociopathological Investigative Team (PSIT), specialising in some of the most bizarre cases, they are deemed to be the best men for the job.
More dead bodies are discovered and Ryder and Nautilus are apparently at a loss as to the direction of their investigation. That is until connections with unusual pieces of beautiful yet disturbing artwork emerge and the pair are forced to look into the past. This isn't just any old art...it appears to have been created by the late Marsden Hexcamp who was a renowned artist. In his day he had been a serial killer with a difference. During his two year killing spree he liked to use his victims pain and suffering as the subject of his twisted masterpieces. And the materials and substances that he placed on his canvasses? Let's just say they weren't regular oil or watercolour paintings.
As the leader of a cult, Hexcamp certainly had a strange following of awe-inspired fans who were desperate to cater to his every whim...something which he fully used to his advantage. Together they created visions that have stayed with his devoted acolytes for the many years since his death.
Together, Ryder and Nautilus uncover stories of Hexcamps debauched history and something much more disturbing...the Death Collectors. An underground network of wealthy individuals who like nothing more than to collect criminal memorabilia and are willing to pay vast sums of money to own these pieces. They have a morbid fascination with murder weapons or any objects that have direct connections with serial killers, rapists or other serious criminals. And the more gruesome the better...they covet macabre weapons of torture - blood stained items that inflicted great pain on their victims, caused immense suffering. These kind of objects can surface after many years, some of which enter the market after mysteriously disappearing from Police forensic evidence departments. But Marsden Hexcamps portfolio - his 'Art of the Final Moment' - was never actually found therefore making it highly sought after by the sickos. In some circles it is reputed as being nothing but rumours and has never even existed. But this latest Police investigation suggests otherwise.
Is someone trying to make the Death Collectors aware that the Hexcamp collection is alive and treacherous? Or is it simply an unhinged individual intent on continuing the legacy of Marsden Hexcamp?? It's up to Ryder and Nautilus to find out...
As the protagonist of the book, Carson Ryder (named after Kit Carson, a renowned frontiersman and Albert Pinkham Ryder, the 19th/20th century American artist) is a really likeable character, as is his sidekick Harry Nautilus. Like chalk and cheese in their appearance they make an unlikely duo but their personalities interact well making them seem like old friends. Combined with the laid back quality of the Gulf Coast backdrop which is described in lovely detail, this creates a relaxed and casual atmosphere at times. An element that provides occasional subtle relief and a nice contrast to the seriousness and urgency surrounding the dark subject matter of the book.
Feisty TV reporter DeeDee Danbury infuses a female slant on proceedings. She is constantly on the scene offering assistance which isn't entirely wanted by the disgruntled detective partnership. Her interference comes across as slightly annoying making you wonder if she is in fact a help or a hindrance to the ensuing investigation.
A host of memorable and quirky supporting characters (some of whom are quite disturbing) are also scattered throughout the book, reminding me of work by author Carl Hiaasen to an extent but on a slightly more serious note...Henri Badentier who likes to play chess with random objects such as buttons, peanut shells and feathers; an eccentric Death Collector called Marcella Baines who actually gets turned on by the thought of Hexcamps repulsive creations; not forgetting Jeremy - Ryders older brother who has some psychological problems to say the least!
Inspired by the Manson family murders combined with a hint of art history, The Death Collectors is a terrific serial killer thriller. As far as I'm aware the storyline offers something completely different in terms of motive and it really emphasizes the shadowy side of human nature that exists out there. Numerous twists and unexpected turns keep you turning the pages, eager to discover more with an almost morbid fascination of your own developing.
In my opinion, Jack Kerley is a really talented writer and this is the first of his books that I have read. His debut 'The Hundredth Man' introduced Ryder and Nautilus and I believe that they also feature in his subsequent novels. I'll certainly be reading more of his work as I feel that he uses the written word to great effect. For example, whenever the 'artwork' or other memorabilia is referred to, discussed and described it brings with it a really eerie feeling, creating a dark atmosphere. In fact the whole book holds a haunting quality that is quite chilling...especially when a frozen human head rolls across the floor.
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2005
Cover Price: £6.99 (my copy was a great 50p charity shop purchase)