Review: The Serial Killer’s Daughter by Heywood Gould

By: Heywood Gould

Summary (from Amazon)

The master of the pulse-pounding literary thriller is back. Heywood Gould, award-winning screenwriter and novelist, author of bestselling novels/screenplays COCKTAIL and FORT APACHE, THE BRONX, returns with his biggest tour-de-force yet-THE SERIAL KILLER’S DAUGHTER. This one is a supercharged road trip that takes our two protagonists on a dark thrill ride to some very dangerous places. Someone is stalking college student, Hannah Seeley. Somebody would very much like to see her dead. Why? No good reason other than Hannah is the daughter of Arnold Seeley, a.k.a., the Robbinsgate Killer, convicted for 11 murders and now sitting on California’s Death Row. The list of suspects who might want to kill Hannah is long. The motive is less clear. Panicked, she uses her seductive charms to enlist the help of her classmate, Peter Vogel. Soon, Peter finds himself neck-deep in trouble. He’s in lust with Hannah, which can only be problematic. By getting involved with Hannah, he has set himself up as a target of her pursuers. After a close encounter, they have no choice but to hit the road in Hannah’s little VW Bug. The chase is on. Hannah and Peter find themselves on the run from their pursuers while trying to discover the identities of those who want to kill them. It’s a cross-country thrill ride, a cat-and-mouse chase involving murder, deception, and sheer survival. You won’t want to miss it.

My Take

I was going to start this review with a bit of a summary but I think Amazon did it pretty well without giving too much away. From a technical standpoint, Gould is an adept author and his prose is clear, concise, and fast moving. It doesn’t take long for the action to get moving and, once it does, it rarely stops. The characters, for the most part, are well fleshed out and believable and the mystery is well developed without being obvious. Gould’s screenwriting background serves him well in this regard.

The funny (for me at least) thing about this book is that I’ve lived in most of the areas that Gould describes. I’ve driven that stretch of I-10 no less than four time from LA all the way to Jacksonville (I’ve lived in both cities as well). He does a great job of representing all the locales in a way that not only makes sense for the story, but feels right to someone that has been there.

My problems with the book are really three-fold. First, the prose is very fast. VERY. This, for me at least, was not a book I could read piecemeal or while the kids were playing in the other room. If I missed a word or two or misread or misunderstood a phrase, I was quickly lost. For many readers this will not be a problem (I suspect) but I did find myself re-reading sections until I ‘got’ it.”

The second issue I ran up against was, and I’m going to make a few assumptions here, a holdover from screenwriting. When you write a screenplay, much of the direction is left up to the actors and directors. I remember reading my first Harold Pinter play and thinking, “What the hell is all this? They aren’t saying anything!” But, seeing it performed…well, it is a completely different experience. You see not only what is written on the page but also what isn’t and can only be brought out from the actors.

The main character, Vogel, is supposed to be a sort of charming smart-ass with a quip ready for any situation. But, often, his lines were given with no real information about his attitude while they were being delivered. This meant that, on more than one occasion, a comment that I thought was serious was revealed to be in jest by a second character saying something along the lines of, “I know you think you’re funny when you say that but…” I’d then have to go back and re-read the original line with that thought in mind.

Lastly, Gould has created a real character in Vogel- not some cardboard cutout that the reader can use to put themselves into the story. My issue was that I sort of thought Peter Vogel was a dick. I mean, he let a girl sleep with him in exchange for helping her cheat. Later on it was revealed that he was altruistic enough go into inner-city schools, at his own peril, to teach but, for me, this wasn’t enough for me to reverse my original “boy, what a slime ball” feeling about the character. Unfortunately, I was never given enough of a reason to like the character for me to connect with him. Honestly, if he had only had a crush on her initially, I think it would have been just as believable that he’d help her when she showed up later. But, perhaps, Gould was trying to show that Vogel’s moral compass didn’t always point north to explain some of his later actions in the book.

I will say that I really appreciated how Gould handled the two main characters. They weren’t suddenly superhuman killing machines ready to go days without sleep. They broke down, they fought, they slept. Basically they acted like humans. I’ve read books where the main character goes for days without eating or sleeping while fighting off armies of enemies. Gould’s handling of this stressful time in the characters’ lives felt very real to me. And I loved that.

Lastly, I must say that I could see The Serial Killer’s Daughter transformed into a great movie. With the right cast and with (likely) Gould at the helm of the screenplay, it could be a great noir thriller. And maybe that was the point.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that The Serial Killer’s Daughter is a good book. If you like mystery/thrillers, you’ll probably love this. It is fast moving, sometimes to a fault, and keeps you guessing. The characters react believeably, the story is well thought out, and the conclusion is satisfying. While I had some issues with connecting with the main character, overall, I can say that I would recommend this book to others.

[rating:3/5]

Buy Now: Amazon
Author’s Website: Heywood Gould.com