Monday, March 10, 2008

Am I The Killer?

Instead of a cheapjack men's adventure novel, I took a detour into something a bit more respectable. Bill Pronzini and Barry Malzberg are considered by many to be masters of thriller writing. Both men began publishing stories in the late 1960s and have worked in several different genres, occasionally behind pseudonyms. Malzberg, as "Mike Barry," wrote 14 quickies about the Lone Wolf between 1973 and 1975, one of which I reviewed here. Likewise, Pronzini has penned a ton of crime fiction, including Michael Shayne short stories under the Brett Halliday handle.

THE RUNNING OF BEASTS appears to be a fan favorite among the several novels Malzberg and Pronzini wrote together. It's light on action and thrills, preferring to mask its psychological terror behind a mystery involving a series of serial murders in the small town of Bloodstone, New York. Several women have been found stripped and murdered (though not raped) with a series of strange diamond-shaped marks carved into their inner thighs. The killer could be anyone; in fact, a New York City psychiatrist looking into the case believes that the killer, coined "The Ripper" by the media, may not even know he is.

This allows the authors to tell the story using the points of view of several different characters, all of whom are involved with the Ripper in one way or another. Valerie Broome is a big-city writer who has returned to her hometown of Bloodstone to do a magazine article about the crimes. Town constable Alex Keller and state policeman Daniel Smith are investigating the same killings, but their rivalry prevents them from working together. Young Jack Cross, a callow reporter for the local newspaper and scion of the town's wealthiest woman, plans to write a book about the case. Stephen Hook, an alcoholic ex-actor who plays the ponies, falls back inside the bottle after he discovers one of the bodies.

Pronzini and Malzberg do a decent job building suspense and keeping us guessing who the killer may be. THE RUNNING OF BEASTS is a cinematic story that would make for a good film, particularly the watery climax and the final shock (which may be one twist too many, but…). My 1976 Fawcett Crest paperback is a complete reprinting of the original hardcover version and boasts a vivid red cover.

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