Thriller's hero is an everyday guy
A Philadelphia lawyer is at the center of the mystery, which William Lashner has infused with humor.
The thriller genre is filled with fascinating, if unbelievable, characters. Cold-blooded assassins, murderous cannibals, and pumped-up action heroes abound - and joyfully so. Part of the fun of a good thriller is often its extreme, larger-than-life nature.
Still, the genre doesn't always fill its ration of compelling heroes who maybe aren't so heroic, protagonists who are just ordinary guys and gals like the rest of us.
Philadelphia lawyer Victor Carl is just such an ordinary guy, the kind of person most of us would like to have as an acquaintance. Funny, good-natured, smart - but not too smart; nobody likes a know-it-all - and even a pretty good lawyer when he's under the thumb. Above all else, he's a loyal friend and a good man to know if you're ever in a tight spot.
Julia Denniston, Victor's former fiancee, apparently agrees, as she's recently made contact with him years after breaking his heart and leaving him for another man. Why exactly she wants to rekindle their lost love, if that is what she's really trying to do, is a mystery not only to us, but to Victor as well.
Things start to become a little clearer, however, when Victor is surprised one evening by a knock at the door. Two homicide detectives are there to inform him that Dr. Wren Denniston, Julia's wealthy husband, has just been found murdered. If Victor could explain his whereabouts during the time in question, that would be very helpful to their investigation.
Being the smart lawyer and smartass that he is, Victor refuses to tell them anything. It's not just stubbornness, either; he has a reason to be circumspect. At the moment the police arrived, he was entertaining Julia in his apartment, and it was no innocent visit either. Even as he's being questioned by the detectives, she's in his bathroom taking a shower.
Given Victor's rather fluid sense of ethics and justice, it's not entirely inconceivable that he might have had something to do with Denniston's death. Especially once it's revealed that almost $2 million in cash that the good doctor had his hands on right before his untimely demise is missing.
It's hard to consider Victor a serious suspect, however, even given the fact that he is still very much in love with Julia. Yes, he would do nearly anything for her - but he wouldn't do that. What is far less clear is whether she would.
Throughout A Killer's Kiss, Lashner does an excellent job of keeping the tone of his story light, even funny at times, a welcome change from the more somber nature of so many crime novels, including a lot of hard-boiled mysteries that confuse brooding solemnity with gravitas.
Although serious crimes are being committed, Victor Carl always has a sly smile on his face and a sarcastic twinkle in his eye. He's cynical and jaded, a little resentful of his more successful peers, if not downright envious. Yet he still views the world with wit, and that is perhaps his most attractive trait.
That mixture of levity and suspense is a tough trick to pull off, as many lesser authors have shown. One only has to sample the scores of lousy crime novels that try (and fail) to be funny to see just how much skill it takes to make it work. Lashner, fortunately, has the touch. Granted, he isn't going to start edging in on Janet Evanovich's territory anytime soon - his novels aren't that lighthearted. But his work is a far cry from The Silence of the Lambs.
A Killer's Kiss isn't an "end of the world" nail-biter or epic adventure story. It's a thriller cast on a much smaller scale, with the very human Victor Carl at the center, gazing at it all through his waggish and gimlet eyes. Although ultimately very little hangs in the balance, there is something quite refreshing in that simplicity.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, September 23, 2007