Someone is killing people in a most horrendous fashion, beating them viciously before death and leaving them with a blank tag tied with ribbon to their neck and the scent of lavender in the room. Detective Robert Miller was the poor sap who caught the first victim, so this serial case is his. But as he delves further and further into the victims and the clues, the pieces of the puzzle don't seem to fit, as if they're parts from different puzzles. The victims don't really exist and all the murders don't line up exactly right. But when Miller's investigation is pulled from him and his career is threatened, he's come too far to let go and back down.
With the use of alternating points of view: third person omniscient and first person with an unknown narrator, R. J. Ellory (A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGLES) exquisitely builds tension and suspense throughout the over 400-page novel. He works in much the same way eerie music works in a suspenseful movie - you know something is coming, you may even be guessing what it is, but it still scares the devil out of you when it arrives. Kevin Kenerly is Blackstone Audio's reader for A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE and his narration of this work adds to the tension and suspense that Ellory has created with words.
Ellory's books continually give lessons in creating atmosphere, atmosphere that blends beautifully into the backdrop of the plot and works on the reader without interrupting the course of events. This is especially present in A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE as Ellory constructs the heinous crimes of the novel and simultaneously illustrates the blooming of a relationship that withstands it all. Kenerly seems to have a firm grasp of Ellory's atmosphere, bringing it out through volume and tone. Ellory's juxtaposition of the horror and the beauty combined with Kenerly's well-balanced energy is what leaves the reader breathless and awed. Kenerly doesn't over dramatize, which would be devastating to this novel. He infuses just the right amount of fervor when it's called for.
The characters of Ellory's novels are flawed humans, often with heavy baggage and history. A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE is no different and let's face it, perfect characters would be boring. But Ellory is able to show all of his characters in full dimension, which often leads to increased suspense. When you've connected with each of the characters, how can you view any of them as the black-hearted villain? Which melds beautifully into the themes of corruption and susceptibility to it.
Finally, winding its tendrils through every aspect of the novel, is Ellory's amazing use of language. Just as the juxtaposition exists in the plot, a juxtaposition exists in the dark subject matter and the beauty of the language. Case in point:
"It was like a line from a song. There was a cadence and a rhythm to it that made it difficult to forget. It started somewhere in Miller's mind, and once it had started it just seemed to keep on going. Like the flat-nose .22s the Mafia used. Sufficient punch to get it through the skull, insufficient to make its way out again, and that dime's-worth of lead just battered and ricocheted around inside, banging off the internal walls of some poor sucker's head until their brain was chicken soup. The thought went like that, and he wanted it to stop."
The image is harsh and brutal and sublimely clear, just like the images haunting Miller. And in the same book you find:
"I could feel her sadness and loss and heartache and loneliness all tightly bound together. I wanted to untie it all, spread it out and see what was there and decide which to keep and which to cast aside."
"A vast silence. Chest fit to burst, but holding it all inside until we mustered sufficient stillness to fold into one another like the pattern of a fingerprint."
Ellory doesn't write about cheerful, sunny topics and themes, but his language spreads a beauty over pain and corruption and you simply can't get enough of it. Kenerly reads A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS with an acute awareness of the effect Ellory's language has on the subject matter. And it is, quite honestly, what makes you want to drive a little further out of your way, so you can listen to "just a little bit more."
A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE is available in the U.S. in hardcover (ISBN: 978-159020318) from Overlook Press and on audio from Blackstone Audio (ISBN: 978-1455122462).