4 out of 4 stars
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The Embalmer by Vincent Zandri is a detective and horror story, set in the heart of New York. The central character, Steve Jobz, is a disgraced former cop, working for the New York State Department of Unemployment Insurance Fund Investigations. In addition to his job being just as boring as it sounds, he also has to deal with intimidating harassment on a daily basis by his overbearing female boss who takes pleasure in constantly belittling him. To add to his frustration, he also receives continual calls from his mother who is confined to a mental institution after suffering from a mental collapse caused by the murder of her husband.
This scenario, which includes him drinking during the night, and adopting a sarcastically witty outlook on a dead-end life, changes dramatically when he receives a visit from Detective Miller of the Albany Police Department. They are investigating a serial murderer who kills his victims by injecting them with embalming fluid and then displays their bodies to the public. Steve’s profile has attracted the interest of Detective Miller, who requests his assistance regarding the case.
Inwardly excited by this unexpected prospect, Steve accepts the opportunity to escape his daily drudgery, and the stage is set for an investigation that is fairly easy to solve but is filled with danger, violence and gory scenes. Although the murderer appears to be an ordinary and boring individual, he is also shrewd and cunning. As Steve and the detective close in on him, he sets a diabolical trap.
Scenes of gripping action, plenty of sarcastic humour, and repulsive yet engrossing deeds, culminating in an epic climax, will keep you enthralled until the dramatic conclusion.
Fans of conventional crime novels, detailing an intricate investigation, may find this book a bit of a disappointment, as the killer is identified and tracked down in a fairly routine process. However, this is well described, together with Steve’s sarcastically humorous attitude, and is compelling as well as entertaining reading.
The general theme and emphasis of the plot are placed on the descriptions of horror scenes, building up to an atmosphere of lurking terror, rather than a complicated manhunt. This is convincingly written in a style that will affect you in the same manner as viewing a frightening horror movie, or a detailed TV documentary.
Most of the novel is narrated from Steve’s point of view, however, the author also includes narratives from the murderer’s perspective. These contribute towards the plot and provide an insight into the mind of the killer who is an unemployed mortician. Technical procedures regarding the subject of embalming are described. These not only demonstrate that the author has researched the subject but enhance the realism and terrifying aura of the story.
Lovers of older pulp thrillers will enjoy this book and will anticipate forthcoming books in the series. The fact that it is set in the contemporary world also allows younger readers to enjoy it, as well as serving to introduce them to the grimy, yet romantic fictional worlds of crime investigation. It is nostalgically reminiscent of older novels. An interesting touch to the book, are the black silhouettes of a Mustang coupe, superimposed over the chapter headings.
There is plenty of sarcastic humour as well as sexual innuendos, liberally scattered throughout the book, but these are not offensive and contribute to the overall atmosphere. Because of the meticulously detailed scenes of murder and exsanguination, sensitive readers may be well advised to avoid this book, as they are unpleasant and disturbing.
Aficionados of well-narrated detective and horror stories, with an entertaining hero and a convincing villain, will certainly enjoy this novel. Lurid details of a gruesome subject, combined with a witty and flowing writing style make it a reading adventure that is absorbing and thrilling.
There were no spelling errors or typos that I picked up. Because of its compelling pace and unique plot, I have awarded this book a rating of 4 out of 4 stars.
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