Forty-two years old, painfully shy, single, stuck working a dead-end cubicle job, Charlie Stanlon lives a pretty boring life as far as the world around him is concerned. Which is the way Charlie likes it.
What his coworkers don’t know is that when they head out for drinks after work, Charlie heads out to find his next victim. Charlie is a serial killer.
There’s an invariable pattern to his life that Charlie sticks with, a set of rules he lives by to keep himself from getting caught, and that strict discipline allows him to conduct regular hunts for victims and satisfy his urges while also keeping him under control and out of prison.
But a funny thing happens on a hunt one night. He finds an injured dog and, against his better judgment, takes it home. From that point forward Charlie’s life begins to change in ways he couldn’t previously have imagined possible.
Kutter represents a bit of a change of pace for Strand. Whereas his usual m.o. is to take a seriously twisted situation and find ways to make it funny, in Kutter Strand takes a seemingly goofy premise – despicable serial killer adopts adorable little doggie – and proceeds to explore with stark realism and minimal humor the way that scenario would most likely really turn out.
Though Strand’s outstanding novel Dweller also has minimal humor and deals with such serious topics as the complicated nature of relationships and loyalties, it can’t be taken too seriously given one of the principal characters in the story is a monster. There is no such reality break in Kutter. Stanlon is an unapologetically reprehensible killer, and while his interaction with Kutter (what he names the dog) does change him, it’s not in a warm-fuzzy, movie-of-the-week, feel good kind of way.
For my money, Kutter is easily the most perfect blending of dark (really dark) humor, horror, and psychological suspense that Strand has produced to date (Pressure runs a damn close second). To that end, Strand also thinks that Kutter is “the work of mine that comes the closest to achieving what I set out to accomplish when I started writing.”
Previously only available as a limited edition hardcover, Kutter has recently been combined in one trade paperback edition with Michael McBride’s novella Remains (On May 21st, 2008, seven graduate students in Religious Studies set out from the University of Colorado in search of God. Armed with only their faith and the scriptures, they traveled to the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. None of them were ever heard from again.). This new edition, titled The Mad and the Macabre, is available from Dark Regions Press.
Coming tomorrow: A review of The Sinister Mr. Corpse.