Special Agent Jason West is seconded from the FBI Art Crime Team to temporarily partner with disgraced, legendary “manhunter” Sam Kennedy when it appears that Kennedy’s most famous case, the capture and conviction of a serial killer known as The Huntsman, may actually have been a disastrous failure.
For The Huntsman is still out there… and the killing has begun again.
Rating: Narration – B : Content – B+
Note: I have no idea what’s with that cover. Fingers crossed the author/publisher can find a more appealing one someday.
The first book in the author’s The Art of Murder series, The Mermaid Murders pairs up hard-boiled Senior Special Agent Sam Kennedy of the FBI Behavioural Analysis Unit with one of the bureau’s rising stars, Jason West, who has been seconded from the Art Crimes Team and instructed to assist Kennedy with his latest case, ostensibly because Jason is familiar with the area in which the crime has been committed. It’s not that simple however; Sam Kennedy might be something of a legend in the bureau, but his often abrasive manner and single-minded focus hasn’t earned him many friends over the years, and following a very public disagreement with a state governor, he’s in the dog-house and the higher-ups want someone keeping tabs on him. So this new partnership is far from a match made in heaven; Kennedy doesn’t want a partner – especially one he doesn’t know or know if he can trust, and makes it clear from the off that he knows Jason has been assigned to babysit him. But Jason isn’t easily cowed; he’s just as pissed that he’s been sent to ‘handle’ Kennedy and insists right back that he’s part of the investigation and isn’t going to be pushed aside.
“I’ve been asked to try and make sure you don’t step in it again, sure, but I’m not here to hold your cape, Batman.”
More than a decade earlier, Sam was responsible for the apprehension of a serial killer who preyed on teenaged girls in Kingsfield, a small town in Worcester County, New England. At the time, it was a regular holiday destination for Jason’s family and he had actually been close friends with the first victim, Honey Corrigan. But now, more than a decade later, it seems the killer has struck again; another girl dead, a small, carved mermaid charm found by the body. Is this the work of a copycat? Or did Sam get the wrong man all those years ago? Given that he’s currently under a cloud, his superiors are twitchy in case the killer is still out there and the wrong man is in prison – but Sam knows that’s not the case. The right guy is behind bars, but there’s no evidence to support the theory of a copycat or disciple either, which leaves the investigation… where?
The Mermaid Murders boasts an intriguing mystery with plenty of twists and turns, and the author captures the somewhat insular and suspicious attitude of the local population very well, which lends the story a slight air of menace. It also introduces a couple of compelling protagonists in Sam Kennedy and Jason West; Sam is large, imposing, taciturn and doesn’t suffer fools. He takes his job seriously, has an enviable record of solving cases and, in spite of the current snafu, is clearly very well respected. Because the story is told entirely in Jason’s PoV, we never get into Sam’s head which means he remains somewhat frustratingly enigmatic, but it’s clear there’s a lot going on beneath that immovable exterior. Jason is a dozen years younger (Sam’s mid-forties), he’s smart, he’s intuitive and loves his job in Art Crimes:
“It’s just that…people keep killing other people. That’s the worst of humanity. Art is the other side of the coin. It represents the best of humanity. And what I’m here for is to try and protect that…legacy.”
After a few days, Jason is surprised to discover that even though he doesn’t much like Sam Kennedy, he’s strongly attracted to him. He has no idea about Kennedy’s sexual preferences but even if he did, Jason doesn’t make a habit of going to bed with people he doesn’t like, so it’s academic and utterly ridiculous. Until it isn’t. When Sam makes a move, Jason is surprised by the intensity of his reactions to the man and can’t resist, no matter that he knows it’s a bad idea. As this story is setting up a series, the relationship between the pair is basically confined to a couple of explosive sexual encounters, but the author also subtly conveys the changing nature of Jason’s feelings towards Sam, and shows that while Sam is outwardly all about the job and compartmentalising his life, he’s capable of affection and tenderness, even though it’s brief and not overt. When the book ends, Sam and Jason have agreed to keep in touch, and maybe go on an actual date… but whether they manage that remains to be seen.
Kale Williams is a new-to-me narrator, and I enjoyed his performance overall, although it took me a while to get used to his characterisation of Sam. It’s not that it’s bad; actually it’s quite a good interpretation of the character, because he’s blunt and very rarely expresses emotion, so the somewhat monotonous (as in a same pitch, not boring!) delivery works. It’s more that Mr. Williams adopts a kind of whisper/speech delivery for his dialogue in order to sustain the lower pitch (I’m guessing); as I said above, it’s not horrible, it just took me a chapter or two to get used to. Otherwise it’s a very strong performance – the pacing is spot on and the character differentiation is good so there’s never any confusion as to who is speaking, and he does a good job with the action/set pieces, injecting the right degree of anticipation or fear or whatever else is required into his voice. I’ll certainly be listening to more books in the series.