Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Shocker With A Hook That Sheer Horror Sharpens

Richard Neely's THE WALTER SYNDROME achieved a certain amount of acclaim after it was released in 1970, including a positive review in TIME. Much of the novel's notoriety was a result of its twist ending, which probably seemed quite audacious then. I guessed the twist correctly in Chapter 1, which says more about how often it has been ripped off (I'm looking at you, Chuck Palahniuk) than it does about the quality of Neely's writing, which is quite good.

Set in New York City in 1938, THE WALTER SYNDROME is told through first-person narration from three different viewpoints: Lambert Post, a mild-mannered classified-ad salesman for the New York Journal newspaper; the confident Charles Walter, Post's co-worker and only friend; and Maury Ryan, a hard-nosed Journal reporter investigating a sadistic serial murderer. A man calling himself The Executioner is butchering women and telephoning Ryan to brag about the killings. It's no mystery to us that Post and Walter are both involved, but Neely's taut storytelling and the fascinating insights into their minds are what propel THE WALTER SYNDROME through 200 pages you may not be able to easily put down.

It's difficult to say anything more about the plot and maybe I've already described too much. If you're interested in thrillers, you will most likely guess Neely's big gimmick as early as I did anyway, but don't let that stop you from continuing to the end. Neely shows a real gift in presenting period detail in a way that colors your imagination, but doesn't bog down in extraneous detail. He doesn't overload the reader with pop culture references the way a contemporary author might, though Neely was, of course, alive in 1938 and was writing from memory, rather than research or using old movies as his focal point.

The violence is surprisingly gruesome, but mostly takes place off-page, so it's more along the lines of CSI crime scene gore, rather than a slasher flick. Of the three major characters, Ryan is the least interesting, but isn't it usually the case with serial killer stories?

1 comment:

Ed Gorman said...

Neely never got his due. Also try The Plastic Nightmare filmed and reissued as Shattered. Lies is another good Neely.