THE KILL CLAUSE is one of those thrillers where I almost feel guilty not awarding a High Five.
U.S. marshal Tim Rackley lives in SoCal with his wife Andrea, a deputy in the local police department. On the very first page, the two learn that the dismembered body of their 7-year old daughter, Ginny, has been discovered. Shortly thereafter, the suspected perp, a convicted child molester named Kindell, is cornered. Before the man is taken in for booking, Tim is given an opportunity by the arresting officers to execute the suspect. Left alone with Kindell, the slimeball gives Tim the hint that there was an accomplice, so Tim allows him to be taken into formal custody hoping the subsequent investigation will yield more information. But it doesn't, and the court sets the accused free on a technicality. Soon thereafter, Tim is approached by The Committee, a vigilante group of five men and one woman proposing to act as judge and jury on seven high profile murder cases where the suspect has gone free. They want Tim to join their deliberations, and then execute those condemned. The bait is the seventh and last case, which is Kindell's. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time by all concerned.
There's much that author Gregg Hurwitz does right in this book. His prose skillfully depicts gritty and suspenseful action. The dialog is well constructed. (My pet peeve about too many potboilers is that all characters "sound" the same.) Rackley himself has a clever bag of tricks from years of military and law enforcement experience that makes him an eminently dangerous man. He knows how to booby-trap a .357 pistol so it blows off the shooter's hand, or pack an audio earpiece with explosive so it blows off a head. He can simulate infected needle tracks using a syringe full of Visine, Comet cleanser, and a crushed vitamin C tablet. He pulls metal fragments out of his body using nothing but Advil, hydrogen peroxide, and a tweezers. Don't try these parlor tricks at home.
My biggest problem with the novel, compelling me to shave off a star, is that I never felt more than indifference towards Rackley. Yes, the murder of Tim's daughter and the subsequent downward spiral of his marriage did inspire sympathy. Yes, I was riveted by his consummate and deadly resourcefulness. But there was nothing about the man that was particularly engaging. I think of other fictional action series heroes whose quirks make them endearing. Trouble-magnet Munch Mancini (by Barbara Seranella), who has a smart-mouth response to life in general. Ex-military cop Jack Reacher (by Lee Child), a rugged individualist so out of the mainstream that he hasn't a clue how to iron a shirt or manage a household budget. Or skip tracer Stephanie Plum (by Janet Evanovich), who's basically just a klutz. Even Eastwood's Dirty Harry persona had his catchy sayings ("Are ya feeling lucky, punk?") Rackley is nothing of the sort. And while this didn't prevent me from finishing the book, it would, oddly enough, keep me from buying other novels by the same author. A hero with a likability quotient means that much.