Killer Choice by Tom Hunt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a free advance copy of this for review from the publisher.
Gary and Beth Foster are a nice couple who truly love each other, and their idea of a good time is playing Scrabble or watching Netflix. They don’t have a lot of money, but they’re happy just being together. Now that Beth has finally gotten pregnant after years of trying they feel like things couldn’t get any better. Which is exactly the point when life tends to kick nice people in the junk.
After Beth collapses while out shopping she’s quickly diagnosed with a particularly nasty brain tumor that will barely allow her to give birth before dying, but there’s a new procedure in Europe that might extend her life for years. Unfortunately, it will cost them $200,000 to try it, and they don’t have anywhere near that kind of cash. As hope begins to fade Gary receives a phone call with an offer for him to earn all the money they need. The catch is that he’ll have to murder someone to get it.
This debut novel from Tom Hunt is the kind of high concept hook that has put many a book on the best seller list and sold a lot of tickets to movies, and there’s a reason for that – it works. Or at least it works when there’s some talent behind the idea, and there’s definitely talent here. Hunt’s got a way of laying it all out in the straight forward fashion that many a crime writer has, and he’s also got the knack of making that style compelling.
There’s two things that really stood out for me. First, is that there’s a good amount of time spent on the efforts that are done by Beth and Gary with the help of their friends and family to come up with the money. They put pleas on the internet, hold events like hot dog dinners, and tell their story to the media all as part of the desperate fundraising only to realize that after all that it's not even close to being enough. It’s a bleak portrait of how Americans often have to resort to glorified begging to get medical treatment.
The other part is the story of Otto, the man asking Gary to commit a murder for hire. Otto is a ex-con who runs a pawn shop as a front for his real business of dealing drugs, and he’s got a huge problem that has made him desperate enough to try and use an average guy as a killer. We get Otto’s story told in parallel, and his criminal underworld couldn’t be more different than Gary’s suburban life. The contrast between the two is well done and underlines the desperate measures that both men feel driven to even if they have nothing else in common. On the downside Gary’s bland niceness is too much at times, and his hand wringing about the morality of murder does get a little old after a while. It was never enough to completely take me out of the story though.
What seems like an airplane read on the surface takes turns that ultimately make me think of this of outright noir. It’s solid crime story, and I’ll certainly check out what Tom Hunt does next.
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