Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Holy Terror, by Jane Holleman

(pb; 1999)

From the back cover:

"Working the streets, Caressa's world is full of seedy motels and passing cars, of men with kinks, men with wives, mens with secrets. Then she becomes a witness in an explosive murder case, and seeks shelter with a priest -- a man who must atone for the sins he committed long ago.

"As a killer stalks Caressa, prostitutes begin dying bloody deaths. Jesse Brucker, a driven detective, searches for answers. And Mick Ramsey, a sexually twisted, award-winning journalist, becomes the number-one suspect in the rash of murders. But in a world of illicit liaisons and dangerous obsessions, where the downtrodden mingle with society's most powerful, no one can guess who is really after Caressa -- or why the holy terror has only just begun..."


This gritty and suspenseful crime novel starts out with an impressive bang (a hopped-up prostitute takes a priest hostage, pressing a gun to his head) and maintains that pulpish twist-riddled pace for the next 300 pages. Holleman's simile-laden prose is hyperbolic at times, but it's an easily-overlooked flaw. The characters are compelling (though Ramsey's character is over-the-top) and there's a lot of dark humor and periodic dissertations about the nature of faith (religious or otherwise) to lighten the bleak twists on display in these dissertations.

It's in the final thirty pages that Holleman's story falters. One of the characters, bleak and somewhat amoral throughout the book, practically becomes a Christian saint at the end. The word "God" is uttered enough times that I sometimes thought I was reading a Bible.

This Biblical end-tone is inconsistent and startling. Not only that, but it suffers from a Hollywood finish, which almost negates any of the book's strong points.

It's okay, if you don't expect much.

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