Sean Lynch – Wounded Prey

seanlynch-woundedprey“It’s time to finish what he started…”

A young girl is snatched in broad daylight from outside her school and later found brutally murdered and hanging from a tree.

When recently retired San Francisco Police Inspector, Bob Farrell, sees this on the news, he realises his worst nightmare has just come true. The same brutal killer a government agency stopped him from putting away twenty years before is once more on the loose.

As the killer wreaks a trail of blood and destruction across North America, Bob Farrell teams up with rookie cop Kevin Kearns and sets out to track down their lethal prey.

But Farrell and Kearns are not playing by the rules any more than the killer is, and soon the FBI have all of them in their sights…

Murdered children create an instant emotional response in almost everyone, unless they’re a psychopath or a sociopath. Children are the most vulnerable part of society; they need adults to care for them and protect them and despite being well-aware that life is harsh and way too many children end up dead, damaged, or hurt due to an adult’s actions, I’m always shocked when confronted with it. We recently had quite a high-profile case in the Netherlands, where two little boys had disappeared after their father was found having committed suicide. Despite the high probability that they had been murdered, everyone hoped against hope that they’d be found alive, a hope that was proven wrong when they were found dead after a fortnight. During the two week search, I often found myself wondering what had possessed their father to do what he did. How could he take the lives of these two precious boys, when as their father he should have been their greatest protector? And I found myself thinking of their mum, of how scared she must have been and how on earth she would be able to go on after this traumatic loss. Wounded Prey, particularly the first part, created a similar feeling of disbelief and dread as we see how Slocum, the book’s villain, snatches seven-year-old Tiffany Meade right under the nose of out-for-an-off-duty-jog deputy sheriff Kevin Kearns. Kearns’ agony and guilt over his inability to prevent Tiffany’s kidnapping informs much of his actions and decisions throughout the book. But where in real life we often don’t get answers to the question of the killer’s motivations, in Wounded Prey Lynch shows us why Slocum does the things he does through Slocum’s point of view and by giving us his history. Slocum is a horrific monster, but the things we learn about him also create a sense of pity for him, without being in anyway exculpatory.

The setting of the book is key, as Lynch himself has stated, it only works set in the Eighties; it wouldn’t have worked set in any other era. One really has to wonder to what extent Lynch meant to make a statement about PTSD and how long it took for it to be viewed as a valid diagnosis needing treatment other than medicating people into catatonia, as there are several characters in the book that might be suffering from PTSD, not just Slocum, but Buddy Cuszack, Kearns himself and several others as well. Had the book not been set in the Eighties, were the Vietnam war was the most recent one and diagnosis and treatment of PTSD relatively new and underdeveloped, much of Slocum’s history wouldn’t have been realistic. The Eighties setting did prove to be a little jarring at times though. For example, in one hospital scene the patient was smoking in his hospital room; a fact that just made my jaw drop. I was born in ’79, so I do have some recollection of the era, but that I hadn’t remembered. It’s strange to think how much the world has changed in just a little short of a quarter-century. A patient smoking in his hospital room would be unthinkable now.

The set-up of the plot is interesting; since we know who the killer is due to his point of view and the whodunit aspect is quite quickly solved thanks to Bob Farrell’s haunted memory, the book is far more about proving he’s the culprit and about puzzling out where Slocum might be going next and catching him. This hunt was well done, with some inventive ploys and some almost borderline legal action on the part of our two protagonists. I love the business cards spiel that Farrell has perfected and his training Kearns ‘on the job’ as he puts it. Kearns is the young, naive newbie, who has his eyes opened to the politics of justice and he handles this in a believable way, i.e. he doesn’t take it very well. To alleviate the darkness of the narrative – impossible to avoid with such a nasty villain as Slocum – there are some really funny moments and Lynch does the dry banter between Farrell and Kearns quite well.

The pairing of the rookie Kearns, with Farrell the retiree was an interesting one. They were both hugely sympathetic characters and I loved both of them. There is a curious book-end situation with the one being so new and naive and the other a dyed-in-the-wool retired cop. It created an interesting dynamic and allowed Lynch to let the story be seen from different points of view. In addition to Kearns, Farrell, and Slocum, there are supporting roles for Farrell’s daughter, Buddy, an old fellow-vet of Slocum’s, and several FBI-agents. While the former two appear to be truly supporting characters for the protagonists, the latter seem to be an added stumbling block for all of them. For they seem to be against Farrell and Kearns as much as against Slocum. Especially Special Agent Scanlon is a piece of work, and admittedly a bit of a cliché as far as Feds go. As is often the case in films and TV shows, he is portrayed as a territorial glory hound, more interested to get in the way of the police and taking credit than running an efficient and successful investigation. So when he gets in his own way and is humiliated more than once in the course of the book, you can’t help but smirk.

Wounded Prey was a hell of a read. At times harrowing – Lynch doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to Slocum’s crimes or his past – it is a gripping read and the ending of the book leaves an opening for a whole series of books featuring Farrell and Kearns. And I can’t wait! Lynch has shown his chops with Wounded Prey and I’m looking forward to seeing what other stories he has to tell—nevermind seeing what other sorts of business cards Farrell has up his sleeve.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.