Killing Critics….not Humour

Generally, I’m extremely wary of national bestsellers; they tend to be nothing but a couple of clichés mixed together a little differently. But Killing Critics by Carol O’Connell came as a pleasant surprise. It has an unusual plotline, some unusual characters and great acidic humour. A must-read for those who love grossness.

We have a murder in the heart of New York City and thus begins the search of the murderer. Artist Dean Starr is stabbed in the back with a sharpened ice pick long enough to go through his heart. It all happens at a glitzy art gallery reception, and he’s so drunk on champagne he doesn’t even realize that he has been stabbed. As he falls gracefully to the floor, a white card is dropped on top of his body with the one word, ‘Dead.’ And naturally, he soon is. Looking captivatingly gross from the beginning itself doesn’t it? Wait, there is more. Detective Kathleen Mallory connects this murder with an earlier one which involved another artist and the niece of art critic James Quinn. The way their murder is conducted is a performance art too. Body parts of one is hacked and joined with body parts of the other. Anyone with an imaginative mind may not sleep for a night for so.

What follows is Mallory’s quest to search for the real murderer and ends up also uncovering some uncomfortable truths that a few people would surely prefer safely buried. Along the way we have some nice comic moments and some sadistically gruesome ones, like an art lover putting a dead bug into an ungrateful blind artist’s cocktail which he proceeds to drink, a desperate mother who keeps with her a part of her daughter’s brain, description of a woman getting her liposuction done – everyday things like that. Add to this an unconventional ending and the effect is brilliant. (The entire summary can be read here,

Connell has crafted this novel brilliantly where the profane, the gruesome, the comic and the thriller just seems to blend in so effortlessly – subtly yet cleverly. All the characters seem very realistic – as normal as the art society can be. Each character comes with shades of grey, which is a pleasant break from all those thrillers having the Good Detective/Cop and the Evil Villain. One can hate, love and envy the main protagonist Kathleen all at the same time. As mentioned earlier, the novel follows a rather unconventional plotline which keeps the reader on the toes. The style of writing is casual but not loose. The tone throughout is sardonic. No moralistic, didactic or allegorical passages here. No moral judgement is passed on any of the characters, be it the flashy fashion terrorist who has locked himself on the roof or the real killer. Yet, this book has some complex and thought provoking themes which will definitely leave the readers a tad perturbed. Connell writes to thrill, and yes, she does it successfully.

Shravya Jain

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