Thomas & Mercer, 2014, 272 pages
Serial killer Arnie Milhouse may be ready to end his thirteen-year killing spree, but he wants one last victim before leaving Annapolis - and the sexy new photographer in town promises to be his most satisfying score yet. He develops plans to seduce the mysterious Allison by luring her out to sea aboard his luxury catamaran for a secluded weekend he won't forget...and one she won't survive.
But Arnie's latest mark is more than just another pretty face. Allison McNeil has her own secret agenda, and enough insider information to connect Arnie's long string of seemingly unrelated murders. But hunting down serial killers is more than just a hobby for Allison: she's ready to face down her personal demons and take down this vicious predator once and for all.
Arnie Milhouse, the aptly-named villain of the Killer Within starts out as a milquetoast married to a nightmare. We get his internal monologue as he's heading home from another soul-sucking day at work, in which we learn that his wife abuses their son, spends all their money on drugs, and disappears for days at a time to return passed out half-naked on their lawn. Arnie is humiliated, terrified, and downtrodden, but doesn't have the balls to do anything about it, supposedly because he wants to protect his son.
Then he gets caught in a hold-up, and in a surge of rage and violence, he kills the hold-up man. And then [Spoiler (click to open)]decides he enjoys it so much, he also kills the kid behind the counter.
This gives Arnie a taste for blood, and thirteen years later, we discover he is a veteran serial killer. He used the insurance money from his late wife (who was obviously one of his next victims) to build a real estate empire. He's gone from zero to hero — a rich, successful Alpha Male who kills and tortures prostitutes and the occasional bystander for fun. By becoming a completely amoral sadist, he also became successful.
This was my first problem with the book — I appreciated the attempt to add depth to the killer's character, but I do not believe that an ordinary person just "becomes" a sociopath. Arnie also genuinely loves his son, which also doesn't really fit the character of a sociopath.
The protagonist is FBI Agent Allison McNeil. (This is a slight spoiler, but it is revealed early in the novel.) Allie is supposed to be one of those "strong female characters," but much of the plot revolves around her playing will-we-won't-we? with her ex, who also happens to be her boss in the FBI, and the major subplot is her rape at the US Naval Academy which forced her to leave the academy. This subplot doesn't have much to do with the main plot, but is an excuse to add a lot of drama to her return to the DC-Annapolis area in her hunt for Arnie.
There is a lot of cat and mouse between Arnie and Allie before the inevitable confrontation out on Arnie's boat, a rather cliched twist concerning another important detail about Allie's past, and a setup for a sequel, so obviously the author is hoping to make Allison a returning character. I did not find her very compelling, though - she's just a chick with a gun and some issues.
Verdict: Killer Within is a decent beach or airplane read, with mediocre writing and a few overly-worn cliches. 6/10.
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