Killing Time – John Kerr

ISBN: 978-0-7552-1547-8
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Reading experience

Difficult for me to enjoy for several reasons.

  1. There is a lot of unpleasant violence, channeled through descriptions of what the evil guys do (no quotes here, but there is ample carnage, rape, a breast is cut off, faces are frequently smashed to pulp, etc.) and the ‘good’ clean violence of the covert, government-sponsored TLD circle (TLD stands for ‘the last solution’) that takes the evil guys out. Violence clearly fascinates the author, who occasionally finds words to accord motives:

    Demarco was a huge man with a deep psychotic fascination in taking people to the very edge of death, looking deep into their eyes and pushing them over. [25-9-12]

    Such a sentence really stands out since there is little reflection of motives otherwise. There are interesting moments (as when Demarco swipes his bloody knife and tastes the blood of his victims):

    Without stopping he wiped the forefinger of his left hand up its full length, turned the finger towards his face and as his eyes opened wider he placed it into his mouth. His lips closed and he lapped at it like a kitten on a bowl of milk. [25-9-22]

    There seems to be an echo of early breast feeding fantasies in here, which according to Melanie Klein (if I remember correctly) are anything but unambiguously peaceful.

    As to the underlying thrust of the work, here is a quote from the biography fronting the novel:

    The word has many evil people in it, and sometimes a bullet to the head would make this place a slightly better place to live. [25-iii-13]

    (There may be a hint of irony in here, but exactly this notion seems to play out pretty flatly in the rest of the book.)

  2. There is little humour or subtlety in the text, just some places that are involuntarily funny:

    They had just lost possibly the most difficult people to replace. [25-24-11]

    (Instead of: “the people most difficult to replace”. You’d actually wish the characters were replaced by others who are more difficult, edgy, had faults, issues, deviant opinions, divorced wives, unfulfilled desires, etc.)

  3. There are long stretches of description that are achingly plain and clich├ęd. Ex-seccret agent Jake (who would have thought) is an accomplished pianist, and this how the book tells us:

    Gradually the music grew more complicated and louder and louder until he was eventually totally engrossed in his playing. The sounds of Chopin soon filled the whole room. Vicky stopped what she was doing and sat down and listened. She loved listening to Jake play the piano. He could play with the softest of touches or hard and aggressive and he could make the music flow up and down and seemed to be able to make the music float through the air. [25-61-6]

Throughout the book, there is a more innocent and likeable fascination with nature and hard exercise (long nightly walks in the Scottish hills).

I may not have the nerve to go through the structure that I set up for describing the other books.

For people fancying themselves as straight, tough and law-abiding who occasionally like to abandon themselves to fantasies of outrageous carnage, sexual domination and then like to flip back to the role of justified revenge, this may be the right ticket.