The story is told through the eyes and mind of a serial killer. This book is often hailed as a pioneer in that genre of mystery and an influence on other writers. It was written in 1947 and that’s the setting as well. It has the appeal of a museum – giving the curious reader a glimpse into a different place and time. Unlike modern novels set in the past, this one doesn’t have to imagine life as it was, so it is more authentic. I’m old enough to remember some of it – the drinking and smoking by my parents, for example, and wearing suits or dinner jackets to go out, rather than jeans and T-shirts. I found that aspect entertaining in a nostalgic sort of way.
The only character that is really developed, however, is the narrator and killer, Dix. The author’s representation of his mindset is not what I’d call credible, but it is plausible. Her guess as to a serial killer’s tortured thinking is as valid as mine or yours, I would say. However, I found the other characters woefully undeveloped and the plot line not plausible. As a retired FBI agent, I am always bothered by novels (and movies and TV) that portray law enforcement in unbelievable ways. This book fits in that category. Still, the book is all about the psychology of Dix; it’s not intended as a police procedural.
There were a few stylistic oddities that grated at times, sometimes seeming pretentious, and other times, well, just klunky. For example, the repeated use of archaic words such as slattern and megrims, the use of the nominative case in similes (“as normal as I”), and the use of the word “like” as an adjective (“…drove a like car”). These cannot be chalked up to the writing style of the times. I’ve read Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain. Their writing was better and certainly free of these peculiar choices.