Saturday, May 7, 2016

Kyle Callahan Mysteries, Book 5 - Kill Switch

It's hard to call this book 5 of the series, since technically this follows the three-book "Pride" series starting Mark McNease's middle-aged gay detective; but, it seems McNease is now including the inserted novel, Death in the Headlights, as a Kyle Callahan Mystery (even though it is more a Detective Linda tale). However, I can roll with it, and if the author wants to consider Kill Switch the fifth Callahan mystery, who am I to argue?

Set some months after the end of Death by Pride, this book finds Kyle in therapy following his shooting of the pride killer.  Killing another person cannot be easy for any regular joe who's never fired a gun before, and McNease's treatment of his character dealing with this is something that keeps the book very real for me.  Yes, Kyle is passing middle aged.  Yes, Kyle and his partner have settled down to a normal, routine life after getting married.  Yes, Kyle faces many of the same uncertainties about the future and his job that many of us do.  All of those things make it "real" for the reader.  But having Kyle deal with the emotional trauma of having killed another person - having not only snuffed out that man's life, but to watch that life drain from the other person's eyes as they died - is a great way for the author to ground his character, to make him more human.  Regardless of the fact it was done in self-defense, I personally can't image how I would cope with the fact if I killed another human being.  A life taken is a life taken; it doesn't matter that the other person is a serial killer.

So begins the premise of this latest book from McNease, and it also prompts Kyle Callahan's foray into the world of private detecting.  Searching for a way to cope with what he has done, Kyle knows he needs something to re-engage with life - and what better way to do that than to do the one thing that really makes him feel alive - solving crime!  And Kyle gets his first case when he agrees to help the man at the neighborhood deli discover who shot and killed his teenage daughter three years ago. It's a cold case, and Kyle doesn't really know if he can find anything that the police missed or not, but he sees it as a way to keep himself busy and distracted and (hopefully) get him back into living again.

Detective Linda Sikorsky (retired detective, that is) joins Kyle on his quest, although she doesn't believe they will find anything new at this point.  Three years is a long time, and if the police couldn't find anything to locate the killer, what makes them think they can?  But someone in a hoodie killed Skate's daughter while she was walking to a restaurant.  Someone killed her simply for her cell phone (the title of the book comes from the "kill switch" that phones now have that can prevent someone else from using your phone if it is taken from you).  Someone killed her while Skate was talking to his daughter on that cell phone.  He heard the shot that ended her life.  He heard the last words she ever said to anyone.  And since then, Skate has lost his wife, his job, and his reason for living.  So Kyle, with Detective Linda at his side, begins to retrace the girl's steps that day when she skipped school, shared a lunch with one of her best friends at New York's top notch, most expensive restaurant, saw a movie on her own, then took a short cut down a side street to meet up with her other friends - a short cut that cut her life short.

McNease's writing, as with his prior books, can be a bit repetitive at times.  Kyle's previous mysteries are mentioned several times throughout the book.  Danny's relationship with his former boss and her retirement to Florida are mentioned more than once.  Kyle's relationship with his boss, Imogene, and his fear that she would move away when she made a splash reporting on Kyle's previous crime-solving adventures show up several times.  Not really sure the reason for these repeats throughout the story, but I have to admit it does give the reader a sense of re-hash, as if McNease either forgot he mentioned these things just a chapter or two before, or if McNease simply isn't sure what to have his characters thinking about in certain situations, so he falls back on the same thoughts over and over.  (Although, thinking about it now, I guess in real life, we do have a tendency to re-hash some of the same thoughts over and over again, don't we?)

Otherwise, McNease gives a well-plotted, intricate mystery.  There is no surprise as to the killer, since, as with his other books, the author shares chapters from the killer's point-of-view.  The real tension comes from the race against time that occurs in each book as the reader waits to see how (and if) Kyle will be able to figure out who is the murderer before the killer strikes again.  And, another thing I thoroughly enjoy about these books is that, although they are considered gay mysteries, they are not explicit or heavy in sexual situations as a number of gay mystery series tend to be (under the misguided idea that somehow gay men will not read a murder mystery unless you throw in some explicit sex scenes, or show a scantily clad man on the cover).  McNease provides a well-written mystery where the protagonist just happens to be gay.  It's not pornography, it's a mystery, and for that, I give McNease kudos!

Thankfully, this is not the last Kyle Callahan book.  After the last page, McNease provides a short hint of things to come - The Human Kind, the next Kyle Callahan mystery, as well as Triple Threat, a collection of three Detective Linda novellas.  I'll be keeping an eye out for both of these books.

RATING:  7 cheap plaster busts of Chopin out of 10 for keeping Kyle Callahan grounded in reality while providing a great mystery.

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