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Friday, February 5, 2016

Headhunter. Michael Slade. Book Club Associates (1985)

Gripping, very violent, superbly plotted crime story. A female murder victim is found in Vancouver, the body has no head, when a second victim is found a Royal Canadian Mounted Police set up a task force as the murders and the public reaction escalate. The investigation follows several different possible avenues in the US and Canada until the final savage and bitterly satisfying conclusion superbly draws the threads of the story into horrifying focus.
This is a very ambitious story which takes substantial storytelling risks in the structure of the narratives and they all pay off. The story is split across three major threads, the headhunter and victims, the public reaction to the crimes and the police investigation. The major thread is the investigation which in turn is split among various cast members as they pursue leads and attempt to manage the impact of the investigation on their lives. Michael Slade is in no hurry to demonstrate how these threads work together, the reveals are cunning staged to carefully reveal and obscure at the same time so that when they connections are revealed in full they are deeply satisfying and change the meaning of previous events.
The depth of technical skill that Michael Slade displays in shaping and managing readers expectations to maximum impact is simply astonishing. There is no cheating , no plot short cuts to falsely baffle the reader and allow the author to exit plot dead ends without explanation, the structure of the story is used to maximum effect.
The way that the story problem of retaining the momentum of the investigation that is not succeeding is superbly solved by having several different leads play out in full. This constantly moves the focus of the story and the investigation, shows the enormous range of the problem and gives the very large cast room to show themselves off to the reader in meaningful ways. As each lead is tied up the pressure on the investigation is increasing all the time, the tension between activity and failing to find a viable line in the head hunter is maintained credibly. These are competent police officers, they are exerting them selves greatly, they are getting results all the time, just not the results that they need.
The subtle parallel between the escalating anger, frustration and terror of the public at large and the political establishment and the enormous toll being taken on the commander of the investigation is wonderful, it gives a public and deeply private emotional context for the events and the investigation. This context draws the reader into the details of the story and gives it powerful force that pay off with astonishing impact.
One of the most engaging aspects to the story is the role of walk on characters, the ease with which they are introduced, establish themselves as a meaningful presence is a joy. They frequently die under appalling circumstances or else simply wander out of the story, they never at any point feel like plot devices, they have a genuine individual impact on the story and the reader.
Bearing in mind the extraordinary technical accomplishments of the story structure, the enormous and vivid cast and the absolute mastery of plot mechanics it is staggering to find that Michael Slade is in fact thee co-writers, the level of creative co-ordination is extremely impressive. Headhunter is top flight thriller writing, not to be missed.

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