The final review of Steve Mosby Week is of The 50/50 Killer. Even though it’s not Steve’s most recent release (that’d be Still Bleeding), I saved The 50/50 Killer for the final review because it was the first book of Steve’s I read, and as such will always be my favorite for having been my gateway into Mosby’s world.
As any experienced officer will tell you, there is always room for instinct. As the years pass, you develop a finely tuned inner voice that you learn to listen to even when others cannot hear it. And, within reason, there is no harm in following this voice where it takes you. – From Damage Done, by John Mercer
Detective Sergeant John Mercer has made himself a legend in the police force by following his inner voice. Doing so has resulted in the capture of many killers, receipt of numerous professional accolades, and even a self-penned book based on his career.
Young officer Mark Nelson sees his new assignment to Mercer’s team as a tremendous opportunity, both for hands-on learning and as a way to advance his career. Little does he know he’s about to get the education of a lifetime.
Nelson has barely arrived for his first day at his new assignment when he and Mercer are called to a gruesome scene where a man has been found burned to death in his home.
The evidence indicates he was severely tortured before succumbing to his ultimate fate. Even more ominous, the evidence also suggests it’s the handiwork of a killer Mercer has seen before.
Known as the 50/50 Killer, his preferred method of madness is to stalk a couple, kidnap them, and then force them to choose which of them will die – after being slowly tortured – while the other is made to watch. He sees it as a game:
The killer’s game contained as many reversals as the participants could bear. The impetus for those changes was being forced to witness the suffering of the person they loved. The victims had never been blinded in both eyes, never punctured in both eardrums. They had always been able to see and hear.
When a badly tortured, barely coherent young man is subsequently found wandering at the edge of a densly wooded area the police are able to get three pieces of information out of him: he and his girlfriend were kidnapped, he escaped, she’s still somewhere in the woods. Based on their previous experience with the 50/50 Killer, Mercer and his team know if they don’t find her before dawn she has no chance of survival. The race against the clock is on.
With the exception of a brief setup, the entire investigation unfolds over the course of an incredibly tense 15 hour timeline, and the story is told in short, tight chapters from multiple characters’ perspectives. The alternating narrative and frantic deadline result in the reader feeling slightly off balance, as if they were right there along with the police, racing to stay one step ahead of the ominous dawn deadline.
Without question The 50/50 Killer is the Mosby novel that comes closest to fitting solidly in one genre, in this case a straight-up psychological thriller, and as such may be the most accessible of his works as an entry point into his catalog. This being Mosby, however, there is definitely a philosophical subtext at work. Though the 50/50 Killer is an actual person, what he does to people is symbolic of any event that threatens a relationship and forces people to evaluate the depth of their commitment, to ask, “How much am I willing to sacrifice for this person?” It’s a tough question, from an author not afraid to show you how brutal the consequences can be depending upon your answer.
As you can tell from my dedication of this entire week to reviewing Steve’s work, I am a huge fan of his writing. I think he has a way of combining action and intelligence that is incredibly rare, and thus a joy to read. Hopefully you’ve found something here this week which has intrigued you enough to give his work a try, and I’d love to hear back from anyone who does. Oh, but we’re not done yet…
Coming Tomorrow: Here to wrap up Steve Mosby Week, a guest post from the man himself.