Review: “Killer Savant,” Ike Hamill

Pros: Bizarre and fascinating
Cons: Weird gender not-really-theme?
Rating: 4 out of 5

Ike Hamill’s Killer Savant mostly worked for me. I find the quality of his work varies wildly, but on the whole I love it and want to read more. In this book, a killer called The Bunny Butcher is killing teenagers in a small town. He left a manifesto with a bunch of rules in it, and one of the things that can get someone killed is being too good. We’re used to moralistic horror tales in which behaving poorly gets you killed; in this case it’s the opposite:

No kid would be caught dead obeying an order after dark.

It has created a weird feeling of a town under siege, in which kids break windows, egg buildings, key cars, swear at any and every adult they deal with, etc., and the adults have to let them get away with it because it’s the only way to keep them alive. The Butcher’s latest victim, Zane, has been in a coma, and there’s been a lull in the Butcher’s activity. Some people are hopeful that it’s over, but most people believe it’s just going to be much worse when the Butcher starts up again. There’s one man in town who knows more than he’s telling about this killer, but he can’t do anything until the Butcher shows his face again. Once he does get involved the strangeness quotient rockets. The Butcher is appearing in multiple places, or perhaps there are multiple Butchers. Every time someone thinks they know who killed a given person, it seems disproved by evidence from the next one. This is a horror novel, so don’t expect things to stay within the real-world possible. The possibility that the real killer is actually a parasite or infection arises at one point.

One of the themes the author mentions after the story is that of gender. I couldn’t see how there was really much of any theme about gender except in that many of the kids had gender-neutral or even gender-opposite names (she: Jagger, Magnus, Duke, Pike, Monty, Roscoe; he: Piper, Neva, Scout, Dixie). I’d consider that a quirk, or at best just an attempt to advance how we approach gender naming, but I wouldn’t call it enough for a theme. The large number of characters did make it hard for me to keep track of everyone despite writing down names and family relationships.

There were a few aspects of how the Butcher behaved that I would have liked to understand better. A certain bizarre type of image seems to mesmerize him and I’d like to know why or how. Also, the explanation of the kids’ bad behavior is drawn out enough toward the beginning that it confused me more than drawing me in. Despite my early confusion, I found this to be a fascinating look at how people could change their behavior under this kind of pressure.

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