OR: The Kult

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #14:-

Like the Carver (see Tuesday’s post), The Kult (Leucrota Press paperback, 328pp, $9.95) by Shaun Jeffrey is set in the UK and delivers an interesting variation on the serial killer theme. Prosper Snow is a police officer in charge of the high profile hunt for serial killer The Oracle, who abducts people and kills them, transforming their dead bodies into grotesque artwork, and then sending the police pictures of his victims on display, their corpses surrounded by photos of other killers. Snow is also a member of The Kult, five former school friends who now and then would join forces to hand out punishment beatings to people who had offended them. But now fellow member Jerel wants to kill somebody, a man who raped his wife, a career criminal, and he hopes with the help of the others, especially Prosper, to pin the killing on The Oracle. Against his better judgement Prosper is coerced into going along with the plan and providing the others with vital information. Only as soon as the execution has taken place, they receive proof that the Oracle is on to their game and not at all happy about being accused of a crime he did not commit. Jerel is murdered and the others find themselves set firmly in the killer’s sights.

There are some good ideas here, particularly in the twists it delivers on familiar concepts. The serial killer as artist is not a new thing, but I can seldom recall one as memorable as The Oracle, with his work described in repellent detail, while the reasoning behind the placing of the photographs was gratifyingly ingenious. Similarly the chances are that anybody who has watched more than a dozen horror films will have stumbled across the scenario in which a group of friends cover up an accidental death and then find themselves stalked by a maniac (e.g. I Know What You Did Last Summer). Jeffrey scores originality points for having The Kult plan their crime and carry it out, rather than being innocents who just neglected to do the right thing in a moment of weakness.

This plot twist is also one of the book’s major weaknesses though. The plan to implicate The Oracle seems flawed from the start and a little too complicated to work, so I’m surprised that Prosper bought into it, while his later attempts to derail the enquiry and throw his police colleagues off the scent came over as horribly naff. I’m not even sure that he would be allowed to stay in charge of the investigation once a personal link became known. I guessed what was going on long before Prosper did and as for the story’s big reveal, there’s a moment that is lifted direct from the first Saw film and gives the game away to anyone familiar with it. Another point against the book is the presence of more typos than can easily be ignored, some of which undermine the reading experience with unintentional humour (e.g. ‘summersault’ for ‘somersault’ and ‘on suite’ for ‘en suite’).

Regardless of such shortcomings, this is a decent outing, one that entertains without exactly setting the serial killer sub-genre on fire. The ideas at back of The Kult are good ones, and Jeffrey shows himself to be adept at misdirection. There are some very tense moments, particularly in the final scenes, with Prosper and his friends hunted by The Oracle and desperately fighting for their lives, a cinematic feel to the proceedings that suggest this would work very well as a film. The characters, if not particularly deep as regards their psychology, are sufficiently well sketched to be credible, with their motives and backgrounds filled in piecemeal. Prosper especially is an interesting case study, a man torn between duty and friendship, someone who wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know what that is, and the more he tries to find out the worse his situation becomes. Typos aside, Jeffrey comes over as a straightforward writer, somebody who is never going to rate as a great prose stylist but has a workmanlike ability to get the job done, to tell his story and tell it well, holding the reader’s attention. I’d rate The Kult the best so far of this clutch of serial killer novels.

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