Review: “Killing Spree,” Various Authors

Pros: A great way to find some new authors
Cons: Wildly varying quality
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

After trying to read a nice bloody serial killer book only to have it turn out to be horrible, I turned to Killing Spree: 10 Brutal Ebooks In One Bloody Bundle. It’s an ebook bundle (from novella- to novel-length), and I’m familiar with some of the authors already, such as Robert Jeschonek and Dean Wesley Smith. Some stories are definitely better than others. Obviously, this being a serial killer collection, there are some gruesome deaths, some sex, and a bit of torture. Although you can pick up all ten of these in the one Killing Spree volume, I’ve included links to individual volumes as well (except for the one story not available on Amazon). My ratings from these stories range all the way from 2 to 5, so you can get a good idea of the range of quality.

Robert Jeschonek’s The Greatest Serial Killer in the Universe: A Scifi Story: Luther used to be a renowned serial killer–and since the arthritis took over, he’s become a renowned serial killer personal trainer. His current gig, however, is unusually difficult: he’s being paid by a singularly non-aggressive alien race to teach them the ‘killer instinct’ so they can save their world.

Luther is a fun character, and his depiction of serial killers as a kind of celebrity is entertaining. I also love the portrayal of the Ectozoids as they absorb his killer instinct–and suddenly leave him wondering why he’s felt so proud of committing such horrible acts. The Ectos are running out of time to save their world as they go nuts killing each other–will he come out of this safe and sound? Entertaining, enjoyable, and I’d give it a 4 out of 5.

Dean Wesley Smith’s Calling Dead: A Cold Poker Gang Mystery: Several retired detectives and a handful of their friends work with the permission of the police chief to solve cold cases. This being a Dean Wesley Smith work, they also play a lot of poker. Bayard Lott, Andor Williams, and Julia Rogers dive into a cold case that Lott and Williams first tackled 15 years earlier. The detectives had found 11 mummified bodies of women in a cave, all with black hair cut identically, wearing identical school uniforms, with identical portions of their anatomy removed. They never found any clues as to who might have done it. Now with the substantial resources of a “deep network of computer experts” at their beck and call, they discover that there may be a lot more bodies out there.

I love this book. It’s a nice, taut, complicated mystery. Only once did I feel someone leaped a little fortuitously to a conclusion, but it only would have required an additional step to make it perfect, so it isn’t a big deal. Some tough detective work, lucky breaks, and plenty of digging were required for this one. The complexity surprised me a bit; this definitely isn’t your run-of-the-mill serial killer tale. I really enjoyed this volume, and look forward to reading more of the Cold Poker Gang’s mysteries. My rating is a 5 out of 5.

Russ Crossley’s The Last Serial Killer: It’s the 2050s, and there’s only one serial killer left on earth: Mike Sikes. He’s on death row, but he’s allowed to call in to Todd Road’s conservative talk show. He starts saying that aliens are going to come spring him from jail due to believing he’s innocent, and when an actual alien space ship is seen decelerating toward Earth, people start believing him.

This story is full of little holes, inconsistencies, and typos. The ultimate plot is interesting, but the experience of reading the book isn’t that great. Road is actually a pretty good character though–he starts out pretty odious (but not too much so), then gradually becomes more human as the tale goes on. I’ll rate this one a 2.5 out of 5.

Mary C. Blowers’s Medieval Blood: Historical Fiction on the Life of Countess Bathory, Real-Life Serial Killer: This is a tale of the Countess Erzsebet Bathory, who used the blood of her servant girls as a beauty treatment during the 1500s. The pacing is sometimes a bit too straightforward when tense things should be happening. The text definitely needs another round of editing, especially to make sure there are quotation marks in appropriate places. The narrative has a spot that suddenly changes to address the reader as “you” and “we”. The writing quality is kind of raw, and definitely needs polish. Also, the story gets wrapped very suddenly and easily, and in a one-note manner. My rating: 2 out of 5.

Laura Ware’s Dead Hypocrites: “Truthbringer” is a self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner of hypocritical Christians. His letters to the press claim that he wants to prove to everyone that Christianity is nothing but lies and fables. He starts out by killing a pair of adulterers, then moves on to others. Christian detective David Hill and his non-religious partner Calvin Anderson get assigned to the case. Hill would rather be off the case–he knows the people being targeted and fears he may know the killer–but his boss insists.

The characters have some complexity to them, the pacing is good, and the plot is complex enough to be interesting without getting out of hand. The religious soul-searching, constant praying, and quoting of scriptures is a bit heavy-handed, but at least it’s well-written in a general sense. I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. My rating: 4 out of 5.

Dave Franklin’s The Goodreads Killer: The Trilogy: Thomas is a self-published author who can’t stop obsessing over his bad reviews–one in particular he found on Goodreads. When he freaks out, a homeless-looking man named Ira Nitor gives him a bit of a beating, calls him a ‘quitter’, and gives him a business card for one Mr. Pasco. Pasco informs him that it’s time to kill Bryan Acari, the author of the worst review. With the help of Pasco’s secretary Clarissa, with whom Thomas falls in love, Thomas uses information fed to him by Pasco to torture, humiliate, and kill Ascari. But he decides he doesn’t want to stop there!

The idea of an author going full serial-killer on negative reviewers is certainly chilling (gulp). The problem I had with this volume, however, is that it’s really hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. And while some readers love that kind of thing, I only occasionally find that it works for me. Franklin directly name-checks Brett Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho,” which is kind of apt, and should also give you some idea of the fact that this is full of sex and violence. There’s also some good stuff getting into the creative act, how we treat it, and how reviewers fit into it. The reviewers are uniformly ugly characters, but on the other hand the main character is deliberately going after those reviewers who are vicious and enjoy hurting authors, so I suppose it isn’t too surprising. My rating: 3 out of 5. (Please don’t anyone come kill me over that.)

Rebecca M. Senese’s Mind Hunt: A Science Fiction/Mystery Novel: Max Grainger, of the Crime Investigation Unit, is investigating a series of gruesome murders. Each time, the killer slaughters the six marriage partners, then all but one child, from a family grouping. She then kidnaps the final child, dumping the body roughly a week later. We get to see the investigation from the point of view of Max. We see part of the story through the eyes of Dr. Helen Nusome, the killer. Then finally we get a peek into the life of one Janine Sanders, a presidential aide who is having nightmares of the killings. The setting takes place after a bunch of bio-plagues caused widespread sterility and genetic damage, resulting in conception occurring only by cloning, and only by the permission of a governmental body. Dr. Nusome is using the kidnapped children for genetic material to sell black market embryos, but she’s also killing and mutilating because she really likes doing so.

Things seem a bit disjointed for a while, as there’s no obvious reason despite the futuristic setting for how Janine could possibly dream someone else’s actions. There’s no evidence of any psychic abilities in the story, and she doesn’t cross the investigators’ paths until late in the tale. For the most part the characters have good complexity to them, and there’s plenty of tension to the events. Grainger is desperate to catch the killers and rescue the latest kidnapped boy. This book desperately needed an extra round of editing, however. There are a lot of mis-used homonyms. Also, the use of ‘scrap’ instead of ‘scrape’ and ‘scrapping’ instead of ‘scraping’ would have been a lot less like nails scraping on a chalkboard if it wasn’t one of the author’s favorite words. My rating: 4 out of 5.

P.A. Wilson’s Closing The Circle: A San Francisco Serial Killer Novel: Special Agent Sam Barton, FBI, is in San Francisco to hunt down a serial killer who’s inscribing ritualistic symbols into his victims. Barton figures out the victims connect back to one Felicity Armstrong, business owner and Wiccan. The killer seems to be using some sort of perverted mishmash of Christian and Wiccan beliefs in his rituals. He’s left notes at Felicity’s home and office, indicating that each victim was being punished for some ‘crime’ against her. Sam and Felicity have to catch him before his obsession inevitably ends at her feet.

There are some holes in this story. If the killer is leaving notes at Felicity’s home and office, particularly since he goes to her office on more than one occasion, then why aren’t those locations under 24-hour surveillance? Why aren’t the police asking how this guy keeps getting into her office and home without obvious signs of break-in? For that matter, how does he know the code to her home alarm? How does he have a copy of her house key? Also, it would nice if the author knew how to spell athame, since we’re supposed to buy into Felicity’s identity as a Wiccan. The characters are okay, although not entirely deep. The story is straightforward, and definitely leaves too many questions unanswered. I enjoyed this story, but it wasn’t fantastic. My rating: 3 out of 5.

Jeffrey J. Mariotte’s Empty Rooms (The Krebbs and Robey Casefiles Book 1): Detroit detective Frank Robey (ex-FBI) and security guard Richie Krebbs (ex-cop) stumble across a new lead in the case of a girl who went missing thirteen years earlier. Richie impresses Frank enough that the two partner up to work on the cold case, even though it costs Richie his job. The two become convinced that the killer was actually the girl’s father, and that the man is still out there, preying on other little girls. Thus starts a race to track him down and stop him.

Richie is not my favorite main character. For instance, he sleeps with a woman who is not his wife, then justifies it to himself as not being a threat to his marriage because he won’t see her again. There are a lot of slow bits to this tale, and various side-journeys, and at times I found myself starting to skim portions of it. I think if it had been a bit tighter it would have been a more interesting read. My rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Robert Jeschonek’s Serial Killer vs. E-Merica: A Scifi Story: This short story introduces us to the AI avatars of the 100 states of America, in the year 2300. Missouri has just been found dead, and it’s up to Nevada to figure out what’s going on as additional bodies start dropping. This is a short, confusing-yet-interesting story, and I just wish there’d been a bit more to it. There was little time to build up characters or tension, which it could have used more of. My rating: 3 out of 5.

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