Simon Pulse, 2014, 272 pages
She's not evil, but she has certain…urges.
Lane is a typical teenager - loving family, good grades, after-school job at the local animal hospital, martial arts enthusiast - but her secret obsession is studying serial killers. She understands them, knows what makes them tick. Why? Because she might be one herself.
Lane channels her dark impulses by hunting criminals - delivering justice when the law fails. The vigilantism stops shy of murder. But with each visceral rush the line of self-control blurs.
And then a young preschool teacher goes missing - only to return in parts.
When Lane excitedly gets involved in the hunt for "the Decapitator", the vicious serial murderer that has come to her hometown, she gets dangerously caught up in a web of lies about her birth dad and her own dark past. And once the Decapitator contacts Lane directly, Lane knows she is no longer invisible or safe. Now she needs to use her unique talents to find the true killer's identity before she - or someone she loves - becomes the next victim.
I only picked this book up because it appeared rather similar to an idea I have been tossing around for a while, if I ever manage to start writing again. As it turns out, S.E. Green's premise is quite different from mine, but while it's interesting, I found the execution flawed and weak.
Lane, as she constantly tells us in her first-person narration, is a wannabe serial killer. She is fascinated by serial killers, she has "dark urges," she fantasizes about committing acts of horrible bloody violence. So, is she Dexter as a teenage girl? Is she an interesting flawed anti-hero?
No, she's a teenage girl who the author unconvincingly tries to convince us is gonna go Dennis Rader any time now, but in a good way. You see, Lane only wants to kill "bad" people. Initially she starts stalking rapists, animal abusers, deadbeat moms, people the reader might kinda sorta agree deserve to die, or at least won't be too indignant when Lane carves them up. Except she never actually kills anyone. She just manages to track down and incapacitate several criminals the police have been totally unable to catch, and then... ends up maybe cutting them a little and dialing 911 and running away. In the process she gets a reputation as "the Masked Avenger," which the author tries to hang a lampshade on by having Lane point out that this is stupid, but yes, it is stupid.
The idea of a teenager with a slightly twisted impulse for thrill-seeking could still have been interesting, but I just did not believe Lane's psychology at all. The thing about serial killers is that they are sociopaths. While Lane is written as somewhat "odd" - she keeps talking about how she doesn't "do" drama or emotion or sentiment and sometimes her dialog reads like someone trying to pretend to be a stoic little robot, it's evident from the beginning that she is not remotely sociopathic. She cares for her family (even her slutty little sister, who is the comic foil of the story), she cares about animals, and she cares about the hot boy who is the younger brother of the hot vet she wants to screw. She is far too empathic to be an actual serial killer, leaving the impression that she's maybe got Aspergers and an unhealthy obsession with hurting people, but only as long as they deserve it.
The plot involves an actual serial killer who starts sending Lane messages, leading to Lane finding out about the true facts of her childhood which her mother (who happens to be an FBI agent in charge of tracking down serial killers) has been hiding from her.
The story is full of improbable plot conveniences. Lane has a teen hacker best friend who can get into FBI computers. She takes down grown adults several times and gets away, with the victims she saved not able to identify her. The FBI and the police are constantly less competent than a slightly unhinged teenage girl.
Also, I found it really funny that Lane is constantly trash-talking her sister for being such a slut (at one point Lane literally walks into her sister giving her current boyfriend a blow job, and this bothers neither of them), while Lane pretty much throws herself at the first guy on offer.
The author does keep the reader guessing a bit about who the real serial killer is, though I guessed it early, had some doubts after a few red herrings were tossed on, but in the end I still found it pretty implausible. That and the very convenient ending in which, once again, Lane is able to get away far too cleanly in more ways than one.
Verdict: This is a Young Adult novel and it shows, giving the reader some salacious tidbits of sex and violence but none of it very realistic, with a protagonist we're supposed to believe is dark and dangerous and prepared to do dirty deeds, but who never becomes more than a somewhat violent thrill-seeker. 5/10.
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