Review: “Skillful Death,” Ike Hamill

Pros: Around a third of the way through it becomes amazing
Cons: Very slow and confusing start
Rating: 4 out of 5

Ike Hamill’s Skillful Death follows the story of Malcolm, a skeptic who debunks claims of paranormal activity or abilities for someone who’s offering a cash reward if anyone can prove they’re real. Malcolm’s also learning a lot about his boss, Bud–a very secretive man. Malcolm is unusually good at getting people to talk, negotiating, and bluffing, to an amazing degree. It’s a lot of fun to watch. As Malcolm learns more and more about Bud, he seems to miss the fact that he’s learning more about himself as well.


I have a rule for myself when reading ebooks: if I’m not enjoying a book, I have to at least read 30% of it before I set it aside and read something more interesting. There was one thread in the early parts of the book that I found interesting, so I decided to go just a little further. I’m glad I did, because with one small revelation the book went from boring and confusing to fantastic. For that first third of the book I’d been anticipating that if I finished the book, it would probably end up with a 2 out of 5, which was a shame because I’m fond of most of Ike Hamill’s books. But as you can see above, I ended up giving it a 4. You know the rest of the book had to be pretty damn amazing to make me set aside my dislike of more than a third of the book.

Now I have a different problem: I tried to explain to my husband what made the rest of the book that good, and I had a lot of trouble doing so. I never really figured out how to get it across. Hamill seamlessly wove all of the disparate opening threads into one story, which was the point at which the book took off. I wish he’d shortened the early parts somehow. Part of the difficulty I had is that the stories obviously take place in different time periods, making it even more difficult to see how any of those threads could possibly connect. On the good side, this book shares a trait with some of his others that I really like: I start to feel like the book will be winding up soon, and then I look down and realize there’s something like 30% of the book left to read. He takes his stories further than most authors would, and to very good effect.

For a while the book seems to be about Bud and his history, but slowly it becomes obvious that the story is really about Malcolm. I’m trying not to say much more than that, because I really want you to get to discover things and have those “aha!” moments that I enjoyed so much.

As a random aside: I had a brief moment of amusement as Vermont gets characterized as entirely liberal. We must not be talking about the town I grew up in!

I wasn’t thrilled that two groups of warring people got broken down as the ‘creatives’ and ‘logicals’. It seemed overly simplistic and artificial. The way in which the war unfolds, however, had some great developments that I enjoyed.

If you don’t mind a slow, disconnected start that waits until a third of the way through the book to come together, then hopefully you’ll enjoy the early parts of the book that I wasn’t fond of. At any rate, despite disliking those parts I ended up loving the book as a whole.

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