THE KILLING CIRCLE by Andrew Pyper (Doubleday), 321 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
Why is a terrific writer like Andrew Pyper wasting his time on thrillers? The bestselling Toronto author, who won the Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel, has immense talent, but you get the feeling he's taking the easy route churning out whodunits.
The Killing Circle is a prime example. The story starts with the possible abduction of the son of wannabe author and still grieving widower Patrick Rush and then flashes back to the writers circle he attended four years before.
Pyper's characterizations of Rush's circle mates are spot-on. He vividly exposes all their pathetic motivations - all except those of Angela, a woman richly portrayed as seemingly lacking a face, distinctions, anything to remember her by.
Eventually, Patrick steals the story Angela read to the group, a gory tale of abduction and dismemberment - with embarrassing bestselling success - only to be confronted at a reading by Angela, who's not dead, as Patrick has assumed. At that point, the story becomes a fascinating psychological drama. Will Angela give him away? How will Patrick cope, and at what price?
But Pyper cheapens the narrative when he turns it into its own gory story of abduction and dismemberment. One by one, the bodies of the writing circle members start to disappear and then reappear as hacked-up corpses. Patrick knows he could be next.
The Killing Circle is well done, to be sure - Toronto itself comes to life as a fascinating character - and thriller fans will eat it up. But Pyper's refusing to step up to the challenge of writing about complex human weakness and desire. Once the corpses start piling up, you're impressed with the technique but couldn't care less about Patrick himself, or his son for that matter.
Hey, Pyper, stop selling your soul and get real. You could be a literary star and not a genre hack.