Handyman by Jean Heller
Pros: decent serial-killer novel
Cons: goes overboard with the graphic violence
Handyman by Jean Heller is a decent serial-killer novel. It does some things really well. But it also goes overboard with the gruesome violence.
Rickey is a great guy. Great job, works well with others, gets along with everyone he meets. But this is only half the story. At night, an evil darkness fills his soul and he becomes a man on the prowl. The killer has already claimed several lives and now he’s gearing up for the next. His victims: all women. His methods: hideous, painful violence designed to drive the women mad from the pain and fear until finally, mercifully, they are killed, their hearts ripped out, quelling the rage.
The cops are completely stymied. Rickey is very smart and doesn’t leave much in terms of clues to his identity. We, the readers, however, don’t get to enjoy a mystery. We know exactly who he is, and what drives his compulsions. With half the chapters told from his point of view, we come to understand him. Of course, we can never excuse him, but at least we understand why he does what he does. This technique was not a problem for me. While I enjoy solving a mystery as much as the next reader, sometimes it’s enjoyable just to sit back and watch other people solve clues to catch up to us.
Good-guy characters are also well-developed, with a few sub-plots along the way.
But where Heller stepped over the line, in my opinion, was in the level of detailed, graphic violence depicted. In particular, the very first chapter is pure torture, spelled out for us in every gruesome detail. Now I understand that in this genre of novel, there has to be some crime. After all, that’s what the genre is all about. And I have no objection to reading about these crimes. It’s fiction, so I allow myself to read these things, without feeling guilty or depressed for the victims. But Heller went into such horrid detail that it was very close to being “too much”. I seriously contemplated closing the book before the end of chapter 1. And I wouldn’t be surprised if many readers did exactly that. It’s almost like Heller wanted to see which readers had the right stuff to continue forward with the book. Like she wanted to weed out the weak leaving only die-hard thriller-lovers to finish the book.
Clearly, Handyman is not for everyone. But if you can stand the graphic violence, it’s a decent thriller.