Review: “In My Father’s Basement,” T.J. Payne

Pros: Engaging serial killer story from an interesting perspective
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

T.J. Payne’s In My Father’s Basement: A Serial Killer Novel is told largely from the point of view of one Isaac Luce, the son of infamous serial killer Walter “the Handyman” Luce. Walter killed a bunch of college students and then his basement was found full of bodies. He’s never given an interview or explained why he, a grandfatherly contractor, seemed to suddenly snap. Isaac can’t get a job thanks to his father’s notoriety, so he scrapes by selling old tools to serial killer fanatics and claiming they belonged to his father. One day, a death row prison guard named Teddy comes to Isaac with an interesting proposition: for one week Teddy will be in a unique position to give Isaac unusual amounts of access to his father, whom he’s never visited before now. He wants Isaac to get his father to talk about the killings while Teddy records the sessions, so they can sell the tapes and split the money. While Isaac does manage to get his father to talk, what he says may not be as straightforward as it seems.

This turns out not to be the typical “why did he do it?” type of exploration. The tales of what Walter was up to are fascinating, but Isaac keeps catching him out with little lies that cast the rest in doubt. Ultimately, “why did he do it?” is not the most interesting question one can ask.

Teddy is apparently doing all of this so he can afford to send his 18-year-old daughter Lauren to Columbia. He thinks the world of his daughter, and would never imagine her misbehaving. Like when she meets Isaac outside their home and talks him into taking her to see the house where the Handyman did half of his killing. Or when she talks Isaac into “misbehaving” in a cemetery. Isaac is not an entirely standard protagonist, and he starts to wonder at times whether he might have more in common with his father than he’d like to.

None of the characters are particularly likable, but not to such an extent that it drove me away at all. It’s just enough to make the characters interesting. There are no innocent people here.

Content note for racism, misogyny, slurs, torture, and gore. I think this is a perfect read for anyone who’s intrigued by the serial killer genre. It has some interesting things to say about the level of celebrity that serial killers enjoy in our society.

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