When I review a book for the blog I try to think through what I liked and disliked about the book. I analyze the book. My last post was such a review of Signature Kill by David Levien. This post is my reaction to the book.
I almost did not finish Signature Kill. The graphic violence quotient far exceeded my tolerance level. For potential readers of the book the balance of this post is bound to contain spoilers.
What stopped me in the midst of reading one page was the description by the killer, when a boy, of dousing a robin chick with lighter fluid and setting the bird alight and watching the bird’s body break down into “a loose gelatinous ball”.
Later the killer, having dismembered a woman he killed, assembles a macabre tableau of body parts:
Her head was pointed in the opposite direction it was meant to. Facing away from him, it sat on top of the pile. The base of her skull, covered by lank blonde hair with dark ginger streaks, rested directly on the shoulders of the torso, while the neck was missing altogether. Then after another instant, Behr located it, a cylinder, removed from its points of attachment, the severed spinal column a white ring centered by pink marrow, ….
I will end the quote there. When I reached that point in the passage I thought about skipping the reading of the rest of the description of the scene. I decided I either keep reading the book in whole or stop altogether. I went ahead and the description continued in graphic detail.
Because Levien is a good writer the violent images are vivid and overwhelming.
While sickened by the passages of torture and killing I still kept reading Signature Kill.
Having started a book I feel a general obligation to finish reading the book, especially when, as here the publisher has given me a copy.
Another part of me was curious to see how Levien sought to have the killer explain his actions.
The killer, on viewing photos of the above creation:
His works are his prayers, his testament to his own godliness and immortality, and that comes through.
The explanation left me reflecting on “why” which I will pursue in my next post.
My visceral reaction to the book was one of pain. The violent scenes overpowered the story.
I do not read crime fiction to be left sickened by the reading experience. I have enough reading at the office of the cruelties men and women inflict upon each other.
At the big thrill blog Levien discusses writing the book:
“When I was in the thick of it, researching and writing for many hours a day, the work became a very dark place. I felt a deep sense of disquiet. I wouldn’t say I had nightmares, but my dreams became infected by graphic imagery and a sense of heavy foreboding. I stayed in there for a long time, and when the book was finally written, it was a relief to no longer have an excavation of the mind of a depraved killer on my to-do list.”
I agree the book “became a very dark place”.
I appear to be in a minority with regard to the graphic content. At Goodreads I looked at several reviews and but a few mentioned the extreme violence and none were put off by the descriptions. I do not need detailed frequent depictions of torture and violence, whether to men or to women, to grasp a serial killer is monstrous.
I do not expect I will force myself to continue to read a comparable book in the future.
****Levien, David - (2015) - Signature Kill